Radiation Safety Experts Call for Global Action to Improve Patient and Health Worker Protection

A medical physicist measuring the CT radiation output. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

More than 500 experts from 77 countries and 16 international organizations concluded a major IAEA organized international conference in Bonn, Germany, on 7 December 2012, calling for global and national progress in enforcing and supporting strengthened radiation protection in health care. The international conference, hosted by Germany and cosponsored by the World Health Organization, issued the Bonn Call for Action, urging international bodies to support its objectives to achieve, "the highest benefit with the least possible risk to all patients and appropriate use of ionizing radiation for diagnosis and treatment."

The International Conference on Radiation Protection in Medicine - Setting the Scene for the Next Decade follows the IAEA's 2001 Malaga Conference on Radiation Protection of Patients, whose action plan continues to guide international initiatives to improve patient protection.

Since the Malaga Conference issued its action plan in 2001, medical radiation use has increased significantly; a development that requires parallel advances in radiation protection. In some countries, the population's doses from medical uses of radiation already exceed those originating from natural background radiation and are far greater than those arising from other artificial sources. In Bonn, experts called for several steps to protect patients and health workers against overexposure to ionizing radiation.

Coordination at an international level and partnership among all stakeholders are needed to implement the Conference's recommended actions. The experts underscored the need to more stringently apply the principles of justification and optimization when prescribing and administering medical procedures involving ionizing radiation. In their call for action, the experts recommended that a global agreement on principles to justify the use of radiation in medicine be developed.

Overall, radiation safety will be significantly strengthened by intensifying partnerships between governments, civil society, international organizations, research institutions, educators and professional associations.

Radiation risks for patients and medical practitioners can be reduced through coordination between the manufacturers of radiation diagnostics and treatment equipment and medical practitioners. At the same time, a focused effort to reduce human and technical errors can prevent radiation incidents and accidents.

Beyond the clinics and hospitals, the Bonn Call for Action emphasized the global necessity of strengthening radiation protection in health care. National legislation and administrative regulations need to be established and educational standards enforced to better protect patients, health workers and the public.

Research in radiation safety was also considered a priority task for the coming decade. The special needs of developing countries and a better understanding of the health effects from low doses of radiation on pregnant women and children were raised as areas in which greater research efforts are expected to yield safety improvements.

Last update: 2 November 2014