IAEA Press Release
IAEA Presss Release 2002/18
Medical Irradiation Technique Saves Lives of Victims of Lima Inferno
2002 | Vienna | Nearly 400 people died when fire swept through a crowded market place in the old centre of Lima, Peru, as the city readied for New Year’s Eve, 2001.
Yet the lives of more than 60 severely burned people were saved because Peru belongs to a programme, initiated and supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that permits developing countries to maintain their own tissue banks.
“Tissue grafts are routine treatment in developed countries, said Qian Jihui, Deputy Director General and head of the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation. “This programme is saving lives and improving significantly the quality of lives for patients in developing countries.”
More than 1600 radiation sterilized tissue packs were provided by Peru’s atomic energy institute to eight Lima hospitals and clinics, where nurses and doctors battled to help the fire victims, many of them poor market traders.
Peru and six other countries in the IAEA Latin America programme offer patients irradiated sterile human skin and bone from 37 tissue banks for transplant use.
IAEA support of tissue banking began in 1983, since when the agency has contributed US $5,313,335 to the programme, resulting in the establishment of 66 tissue banks in the Asia Pacific region, seven in Africa, while the number is growing.
Tissue grafts increase the odds for burn patients’ survival by reducing the risk of infection. They are also used to treat victims of leprosy. A bone transplant can save a limb.
The IAEA has helped develop a system – used in 28 countries -- that disinfects tissue grafts in the final package with ionising radiation without damaging them, dramatically lowering the risk of contamination.
Now medical authorities in the United States are considering adoption of similar irradiation techniques, following a number of cases of contamination of medical tissue used for transplant.
The issue will be among items to be discussed in Vienna, December 2-4, at IAEA headquarters, at a meeting of experts who are preparing for a high level international expert meeting on radiation of tissue next year.
IAEA involvement in tissue banking grew out of the role it had taken in the successful use of irradiation to sterilize disposable medical products.
Over 200,000 donor grafts, priced at over $50 million, have been produced by the programme, replacing expensive imports developing countries formerly relied on.
In fact, said Mr Qian, importing the grafts provided under the IAEA programme would have cost developing countries $US 500 million.
“Not only has the programme saved $450 million by replacing imported tissue, making allografts (donated tissue) available in these countries for the first time is an improvement in health care,” Mr Qian said.
A major component of the IAEA programme has been the development of skills, resulting in the writing of the first ever training curriculum for tissue banking, and distance learning programmes, based in Singapore and Buenos Aires, that offer university diplomas.
“By trying to establish a level playing field for developed and developing countries in one key area of medical service delivery we have achieved enormous cost savings, helped save lives and improved the quality of life for many patients. Now the lessons learned in developing countries are being adopted by the developed world,“ said Mr Qian.
NOTE: There will be a press conference in Room C-03, in the Vienna International Centre, at 10: 30, 4 December. Mr Qian, Sam Doppelt, USA, president of the American Association of Tissue Banking, Jan Koller, Slovakia, Secretary of the European Tissue Banking Association and Fortunato Banaim, Argentina, President of the Latin America Association of Tissue Banking will be available to answer reporters’ questions.
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