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Helping Nuclear Medicine and Radiotherapy Departments Deal with Covid-19: IAEA Webinars Draw Thousands


Over 4000 people worldwide have attended webinars hosted by the IAEA: how nuclear medicine and radiotherapy departments can operate as safely as possible during the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, with special emphasis on infection protection control. Several more webinars are scheduled for coming weeks – starting today, – in English, Spanish, Russian and Arabic, with professionals from around the world sharing their institutions’ experience and emerging best practices.

“COVID-19 is an unfolding situation, health care providers worldwide are adapting their routine operations to minimize risks of exposure while continuing to provide the essential and critical services.  This is where we are trying to help,” said Diana Paez, Head of the Nuclear Medicine and Diagnostic Imaging Section at the IAEA. “We are helping countries in different stages of COVID-19 Pandemic to adapt and learn from experience of others.”

Diagnostic imaging has a special role, as computer tomography (CT), is one of the tools used to diagnose COVID-19 associated complications in the lungs. Hospitals need to find a way to protect patients and staff while examining potentially infected patients. In addition to providing essential services to patients with cancer, cardiac and other health conditions, nuclear medicine departments could support radiology departments through the use of hybrid imaging scanners having a suitable CT component, so other CT scanner could be dedicated for COVID-19 patients, reducing the potential spread of infection.

“The information being exchanged is very helpful, there had been a lack of consistent information previously and indications coming from worldwide experts through these webinars were very useful,” said Stefano Fanti, Director of the Nuclear Medicine Division at the St. Orsola-Malpighi University Hospital in Bologna, Italy and a speaker at the first webinar targeting  nuclear medicine departments on 25 March. “As there has been almost no information available, apart from an editorial, and only with a national perspective, the webinar provided a worldwide perspective.”

The kind of best practices discussed include the implementation of a robust COVID-19 screening programme for staff and patients, cleaning and disinfection of equipment and accessories, promotion of hygiene measures and the use of information technology solutions that allow multidisciplinary team meetings, staff meetings and discussions with patients to take place remotely.

The webinars held earlier this month included “COVID-19 Pandemic- Challenges for the Nuclear Medicine Departments”, “COVID-19 Preparedness for Radiotherapy Departments” in both English and Spanish and “ESR Connect Special Reports- Radiology in the fight against COVID-19” in partnership with the European Society of Radiology and the International Society of Radiology with more webinars scheduled for this week. Besides online seminars on infection protection control, the IAEA has also organized webinars on the radiation protection of patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 (see box).

Ivan Vega, a nuclear medicine physician in Colombia and participant in the webinars noted that the nature of his work has changed rapidly and webinar was helpful in getting tips. “The webinars helped us make decisions about how to continue helping our patients without exposing them or exposing ourselves to infection and defining our nuclear medicine care priorities,” he said. While filling a gap in the current information available, the webinars also “help us reaffirm that our concepts, doubts and concerns about this topic are the same as those of other people around the world and gives us more security when acting or making decisions.”

Akram Al-Ibraheem, Chairman of the Department of Nuclear Medicine and PET/CT at King Hussein Cancer Center in Jordan, has seen his work change during this time with an increased focus on infectious control measures. Al-Ibraheem notes that the information provided through the webinars was “very valuable as we are cognizant that the situation in any country could change any time. Sharing knowledge from countries more affected in this pandemic has enriched our experience and given us a platform for multifactorial approach while continuing our services.”

The next webinar, “COVID-19 Pandemic: Guidance for Nuclear Medicine Departments”, is scheduled for Thursday. The information presented will include recommendations for nuclear medicine departments to follow, based on a typical patients’ journey through the department. Minimizing the risk to staff, patients and family members as well as controlling the transmission of the virus while continuing to provide the essential and critical service of nuclear medicine will also be addressed.

Mariela Agolti, the Medical Director at the Centre of Nuclear Medicine in Argentina, says that her department is getting prepared for a rise in COVID-19 patients. “The information presented is very important as we know we will have more cases, we know how to manage the situation but we must stay updated.” Agolti says she will continue to educate herself and will take part in future webinars hosted by the IAEA, “in Argentina the borders are closed, so this is the only opportunity we have to keep our knowledge up to date.”

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a major challenge to radiotherapy departments worldwide in curbing the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of services. To support the unique needs of the radiation oncology community, the IAEA works together with professional societies worldwide in facilitating sharing of best practices in the search of a consensus. Today, the IAEA is hosting a “Special session of the AFrica Radiation Oncology NETwork (AFRONET)” to discuss and exchange experiences regarding COVID-19 related issues in African radiotherapy departments.

The IAEA is supporting physicians, nurses and other frontline healthcare practitioners through these informational webinars. On top of those participating in real time, 3000 professionals have watched the recordings so far.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant demands placed on medical systems worldwide. These include the spread of infection, dramatically increased patient admissions, overloading of clinics, shortage of staff and equipment and inevitable changes in access and medical practice. We are committed to continue to provide guidance to medical professionals working in radiation oncology, nuclear medicine and radiology practices,” said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Human Health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant demands placed on medical systems worldwide... We are committed to continue to provide guidance to medical professionals working in radiation oncology, nuclear medicine and radiology practices.
May Abdel-Wahab, Director, Division of Human Health, IAEA

Towards safe imaging of COVID-19 patients

The IAEA is offering support on radiation protection of patients and staff to radiology departments from around the world in the use of CT scans to assess COVID-19 in the lungs. In a webinar last week, COVID-19 and chest CT: protocol and dose optimization, radiology experts presented best practices of protocol and dose optimization of chest CT in patients with known or suspected COVID-19 infection. Close to 1000 professionals attended the session. A follow-up webinar planned for next week will discuss radiation protection of health workers and other essential operators during the COVID-19 outbreak. The announcement is available on this page.

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