IAEA Work Supports World Health Focus on Mothers, Children

A mother and child in Colombia. (Photo credit: J. Perez-Vargas/IAEA)

Millions of children never see the age of five, and millions of mothers die too early from sicknesses that can be prevented and treated. This year's World Health Day shines the spotlight on improving the health of mothers and children, and the IAEA stands among international organizations contributing to the important work.

"We are working to apply nuclear techniques where they will count the most, to enhance the lives of people around the globe," IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said in describing the peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology supported by the IAEA.

One big target is cancer, a major health problem on the rise in developing countries. The IAEA has been working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners to provide the training, expert missions and equipment needed to support national and regional cancer therapy programmes. Of the estimated 260 million new cancer cases expected in the next 20 years, approximately 175 million will require radiation therapy. The aim is to help more developing countries acquire the resources and expertise to deal with this impending crisis. To raise public awareness of this need, and capabilities to assist countries in providing cancer treatment and care, the IAEA launched the Programme of Action for Cancer Radiotherapy (PACT) over the past year. (See Story Resources.)

Other examples of IAEA-supported human health activities include:

  • The successful introduction of low-cost screening methods for hepatitis C in Latin America, a region where the risk of transmitting the infection has been high to date and countries often lacked effective screening tools.
  • In the East Asia region, over a 2-year period, about 3.8 million newborn babies were screened for congenital hypothyroidism through technical cooperation projects; the result was that 1100 newborns were identified with this syndrome and saved from mental retardation through early intervention.
  • In Africa, the control of human communicable diseases has been furthered through regional cooperation. Examples include research to use nuclear techniques to detect drug resistance in malaria and tuberculosis cases, as well as through the use of molecular epidemiology and immunology techniques in support of the UNAIDS-WHO African AIDS Vaccine Programme; and the assessment of nutrition intervention programmes on vulnerable populations, including those infected with HIV/AIDS.
  • In Latin America and other regions, nutritional needs and hunger contribute to low birth weight, developmental problems, mental retardation, and a weakened immune system in children. The IAEA's nutrition programme uses nuclear techniques to monitor a wide variety of nutritional problems and improve the management of food supplementation programmes. In Latin America, a regional project is providing the information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these supplementation efforts and is assisting national governments to set baseline nutritional guidelines tailored to local conditions and needs. The IAEA also supports research in Senegal and other countries to evaluate the effectiveness of a supplementation programme for breastfeeding mothers and children in poor urban areas.

For more information on World Health Day and IAEA activities in human health, check Story Resources for links to information and reports.

Last update: 12 November 2014