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AFRA’s 31st Technical Working Group Meeting Discusses Enhancement to Regional Programme

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On  May 14, experts at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) handed over a set of COVID-19 testing equipment kits donated by the IAEA to the Ministry of Health in Accra. (Photo: B.J. Nyarko/GAEC)

Members of the African Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology (AFRA) held their 31st Annual Technical Working Group Meeting virtually in July to support the implementation of the technical cooperation (TC) programme in Africa.

Officially opened by Éléonore Yayi Ladékan, Benin’s Minister of Higher Education, the event was held to review progress made by the TC programme in Africa in recent years and to build consensus for both programme and policy-related recommendations which emerged during the two-day meeting.

The meeting was co-chaired by both AFRA’s current and incoming Chairs, Zizamele Mbambo of South Africa and Pascal Houngnandan of Benin, respectively, and attended by 81 participants of the AFRA Committee, 37 National Coordinators, the Executive Secretary of the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) and representatives of the Vienna-based Group of African Ambassadors to the IAEA and IAEA staff.

Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of TC’s Africa Division, speaking on behalf of the IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, encouraged the forum to leverage the IAEA’s expertise in the fight against the virus that causes COVID-19. “The IAEA is proud to be contributing to international efforts to address COVID-19. We are building national capacities to use one of the most accurate laboratory methods for detecting, tracking and studying the coronavirus.”

Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the TC Division for Africa, speaks at the opening of the virtual meeting, alongside Rapulane Molekane, Ambassador of South Africa to the IAEA and Chairman of the Vienna-based African Group. (Photo: IAEA)

The IAEA has received requests from 44 countries in Africa to combat the spread of COVID-19—thus far, 34 countries have received RT-PCR diagnostic kits, in addition to personal protection equipment, reagents and laboratory consumables. In collaboration with the FAO, the IAEA has also provided guidance on coronavirus detection to laboratory professionals in 32 African countries through VETLAB, a network of veterinary laboratories in Africa and Asia originally set up with joint FAO-IAEA support.

In praise of the meeting’s facilitation, Mbambo said, “Despite the enduring COVID-19 pandemic, the innovative measures you implemented have helped to ensure that Agreement’s activities can continue as planned.” Rapulane Molekane, Ambassador of South Africa to the IAEA and Chairman of the Vienna-based African Group, encouraged AFRA members to actively involve the continent’s youth, in particular women, to take advantage of the training opportunities provided by IAEA and AFRA to build greater regional self-reliance in nuclear science and technology.

During the meeting, the participants reviewed the AFRA programme performance over the last year and agreed on key recommendations to enhance future delivery and performance. The attendees also discussed the forthcoming Mid-Term Review of the AFRA Regional Cooperative Framework (RCF) 2019-2023, reviewed the Regional Programme (RPN) for the TC Cycle 2022-2023 and made preparations for the AFRA-AFCONE Memorandum of Understanding, which is to be signed on 7 September.

Other programmatic discussions included the AFRA Fund, the Human Resource Development Strategy and Regional Designated Centres. Abdulrazak emphasised the importance of ensuring AFRA’s network regularly monitors and evaluates TC projects and relays their findings back to the IAEA for follow-up.

The meeting participants endorsed a number of programme and policy-related resolutions to enhance the performance of the AFRA programme and suggested, among other proposals, that the IAEA should initiate a call for applications to recognize additional Regional Designated Centres in new and emerging fields, that AFRA should expand its partnerships to include non-traditional donor countries and the private sector, and that efforts be made to improve inter-regional collaboration in training activities of common interest, particularly regarding other regional and cooperative agreements.

The resulting recommendations and resolutions from this meeting will be presented to the 31st Meeting of AFRA Representatives, which will be convened virtually on the margins of the 64th IAEA General Conference in September.

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