You are here

Responding to a pandemic

IAEA helps 128 countries to stem the spread of COVID-19 in largest ever assistance project

Omar Yusuf

(Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Since early 2020, COVID-19 has placed an incredible burden on public health systems around the world. Policymakers, laboratory technicians and healthcare professionals have all been called upon to meet the growing demand for detection equipment and capacities, to slow down and control the number of new infections. Following requests from countries around the world, the IAEA immediately began channelling assistance.


(Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and delivered through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA organized hundreds of shipments to diagnostic laboratories around the globe. These shipments included laboratory hardware, like real-time RT–PCR kits; diagnostic reagents and laboratory consumables; biosafety supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE); and laboratory cabinets for the safe handling and analysis of samples.

Here, a researcher from the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre prepares to conduct a real-time RT–PCR test.


(Photo: H. Cossa/ Mozambique)

Real-time RT–PCR is a nuclear-derived technique for detecting pathogen-specific genetic material and is widely used for detecting the COVID-19 virus. While laboratories in many countries have used real-time RT–PCR for diagnosing diseases, such as the Ebola and Zika viruses, some of them needed support in adapting this method for SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 virus, as well as in increasing their national testing capacities.


(Photo: IAEA)

To date, 296 laboratories in 128 countries and territories have received IAEA/FAO assistance in the rapid detection of COVID-19.  Here, biosafety cabinets are prepared for shipment from Vienna to laboratories around the world.


(Photo: C. Madara, Nuclear Power and Energy Agency, Kenya)

“The consignment we received from the IAEA comprises PPE for our frontline workers,” said Charles Keter, Cabinet Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Energy. “The kits we received for the detection of COVID-19 have greatly boosted the country’s capacity in diagnosing and managing the disease. The support package is a testament to the effective use of nuclear techniques in healthcare provision.”

Experts at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya prepare samples for processing by an RT–PCR machine.


(Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

In addition to the provision of equipment, 11 webinars on standard operating procedures were held for healthcare providers, with over 6000 live participants, and a further 16 RT–PCR webinars were held with just over 2000 live participants. All told, close to 300 laboratories and health institutions have received direct support, including 44 in Africa, 28 in Asia and the Pacific, 24 in Europe, and 32 in Latin America and the Caribbean.


(Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Benefitting from more than €27.7 million in extrabudgetary contributions, it is the largest technical cooperation project — both in terms of amount of funding and number of beneficiary countries — in the Agency’s history.

The IAEA’s experience with COVID-19 and in addressing zoonotic and animal disease outbreaks has provided the foundation for a new project, the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or ZODIAC.


(Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

In addition, the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre is assisting countries in the early detection and surveillance of SARS-CoV-2, through research to develop and improve diagnostic tests.

For example, in collaboration with the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety, a comparison of 11 RT–PCR reagents for swabs and clinical material helped increase access to PCR reagents for mass testing (see article).

The evaluation of a diagnostic platform for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in mink and other animal species will also provide an additional and very useful tool for the surveillance and monitoring of the virus.


September, 2021
Vol. 62-3

Stay in touch