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Exploring and Implementing New Advances in Nuclear Medicine in Africa with IAEA Support


Nuclear medicine (NM) imaging has played a pivotal role in the clinical diagnosis and treatment of disease for decades, and every year, research and technological advances expand its potential applications. To stay abreast of the latest advances in the field and to ensure their compliance to the relevant radiation safety measures, more than 60 practicing NM physicians, NM technologists, medical physicists and radiopharmacists from 19 African countries attended a four-day IAEA regional training course from 2 to 5 November 2020. Held virtually, the event was supported by a panel of experts from Algeria, South Africa, Italy and the USA, who shared their knowledge and experience with the participating nuclear medicine practitioners.

In oncology, cardiology, neurology and a host of other clinical fields, NM professionals are routinely required to investigate and diagnose disease, and often to treat patients. As new trends and developments in the discipline continue to broaden the potential of nuclear medicine, the IAEA continues to deliver training and support through its technical cooperation (TC) programme[1] to help countries leverage that potential safely and effectively.

Across four days, the participants learned about clinical aspects of NM, new developments in training and education, quality assurance and radiation safety, and emerging challenges in the field.

As NM service-providers in the region begin to apply new technologies and techniques in their hospitals and centres, the IAEA provides support through specialised platforms and tools to promote their safe and high-quality application. As part of this essential support, IAEA staff introduced the training course participants to the Agency’s Quality Management Audits in Nuclear Medicine Practices (QUANUM) and to the Safety in Radiation Oncology (SAFRON) reporting system, demonstrating how these tools can be used to strengthen safety and support quality.

International expert Professor Salah Bouyoucef described the experience of African countries in the application of QUANUM audits, and underscored the persisting challenges of delivering nuclear medicine services in resource-limited settings. “High quality and self-sustainability are key aspects that must be considered when preparing a NM project worldwide, but particularly in African region,” said Bouyoucef.

To close the gap between existing NM modalities and available services in Africa, Francesco Giammarile, an IAEA nuclear medicine physician, presented a collection of training and infrastructure development strategies for facilities in the region.

“In Africa, there is a lack of visibility of our speciality. The best way to improve the situation is for experts and professionals in the region to participate in continuous medical education, addressing specific clinical aspects and involving specialists from the hospital to the medical board,” said Giammarile.

The regional training course was designed to meet the unique needs of Africa’s NM centres, which face a range of challenges that include limitations in quality control infrastructure and insufficient training opportunities for young physicians and technologists.

“The main factors affecting the expansion of NM in Africa include high investment, operation and maintenance costs, and the limited availability of qualified personnel and radiopharmaceuticals”, said  Enrique Estrada, IAEA nuclear medicine specialist.

Partnerships with specialised organizations can provide important assistance in this regard. For example, recently signed Practical Arrangements with the French Society of Nuclear Medicine will will facilitate training and capacity building for African countries.

“The IAEA’s technical cooperation programme has made a huge contribution to the evolution of nuclear medicine in Africa over the last decade”, said Anna Grigoryan, IAEA Programme Management Officer in the TC Division for Africa. “Advanced diagnostic and treatment techniques in NM including positron emission tomography (PET), have become widely available, and Member State journeys and achievements in establishing Nuclear Medicine services are something that we can all be proud of.”

[1] RAF6057, ‘Strengthening the Quality of Nuclear Medicine Services (AFRA)’

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