Every year there are over 906 000 new cancer cases in Latin America. It's estimated that the region will need more than 150 teletherapy machines in the next three years to handle the demand for treatment. These medical facilities will require qualified, competent staff to operate; staff who need to be educated and trained to use the specialised diagnostic and treatment equipment.
That training can only be offered through universities' Masters and doctoral programmes in nuclear science, and delivered by educators on the continent. Educational infrastructure of such breadth is not universally available in Latin America. So many countries are pooling their physical and intellectual resources to teach students over the internet.
This educational network - the Latin American Network for Education in Nuclear Technology (LANENT) - was started in 2010 and is designed to bolster the efforts of institutions in countries that don't have mature nuclear education programmes.
"The network should begin offering educative and outreach material by 2014," says Juan Luis François, LANENT Vice President and Professor of Engineering at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. "Nuclear technology - whether it's used for medicine, energy generation, or industrial uses - continues to grow in relevance. And it's critical that educational capacity, skills and staff numbers grow apace with the development and spread of nuclear technology."
Through a Technical Cooperation project, the IAEA is helping LANENT to connect the nuclear educational community in the region and develop highly qualified nuclear personnel across Latin America and the Caribbean. Educational institutions from any country in the region that are dealing with nuclear education, can be part of the network and also register with the IAEA-developed Cyber Learning Platform for Nuclear Education and Training (CLP4NET), which is used to deliver courses and training.
Through the e-learning platform, registered users can receive direct training from nuclear professionals, upload training material and network with each other. CLP4NET also serves as a forum to discuss policies and strategies for nuclear education and training.
The LANENT component of the platform is tailored to the needs of the region, and will provide information in Spanish as well as in English, covering each of the IAEA's thematic areas, including nuclear energy, safety and security, nuclear science and applications, safeguards, technical cooperation, legal infrastructure and nuclear knowledge management.
Educators from LANENT and other regional networks (Europe, UK, Canada, Asia and Africa) met in Vienna, Austria, in November 2012 to discuss pooling their global educational resources. Another such meeting will be held in July 2013. And the next LANENT General Assembly will be held in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in June 2013.