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IAEA Laboratory Modernization Reaches New Stage with Start of Flexible Modular Laboratory Construction

Left to right: SWMCNL Head, Mr Gerd Dercon, Head of the ReNuAL Project Management Group, Mr David Sharp, and FEPL Head, Mr Andrew Cannavan, on site for the start of excavation works for the Flexible Modular Laboratory.

At the end of April the next major component of the IAEA’s modernization efforts for the Nuclear Applications (NA) laboratories in Seibersdorf switched into high gear with the start of excavation works for the second new laboratory building— the Flexible Modular Laboratory (FML). The enabling works and basic ground engineering work were carried out at the end of last year.

Progress for both new laboratory buildings under construction – the FML and the Insect Pest Control Laboratory (IPCL) - continues smoothly, on time and on budget.

The FML is intended to house three laboratories managed jointly by the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as part of the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture: the Food and Environmental Protection Laboratory (FEPL), the Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Laboratory (SWMCNL) and the Animal Production and Health Laboratory (APHL). The FML is designed to provide these three laboratories with enhanced laboratory and training capabilities.

Construction for two of the three laboratories – the FEPL and the SWMCNL - is already fully funded, while the APHL still requires an estimated €5.7 million in extrabudgetary funds for its completion. To proceed on schedule with the ongoing construction and to maximize cost efficiencies, €1 million is needed by June 2017, and the remaining €4.7 million by September 2017. The first two laboratories of the FML are planned for completion in mid-2018 while the APHL laboratory is scheduled for completion by December 2018, subject to the availability of funds. 

The APHL does valuable work to help Member States improve their livestock production and prevent the spread of animal and zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. In many Member States, livestock play a critical socioeconomic role in rural communities and national economies, and preventing the spread of diseases helps to protect livelihoods and support food security.

In recent years, Member State demands for emergency assistance from the APHL have grown rapidly: For example, in 2015 the APHL helped Member States respond to an outbreak of the Ebola virus and avian influenza strain HPAI-H5N1 in West Africa. In 2016, the APHL extended support to Member States coping with outbreaks of the Zika virus in Latin America, lumpy skin disease and African swine fever in Eastern Europe, Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) in Asia and Africa, avian influenza strain HPAI-H7N9 in Asia and avian influenza strain HPAI-H5N8 in Asia, Europe and North Africa.

The APHL, in collaboration with the IAEA Technical Cooperation Department and FAO, recently conducted a training course in Seibersdorf on nuclear and nuclear-related techniques to quickly and effectively detect the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in camels. MERS is an emergent and potentially fatal virus reported primarily in Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region that causes severe respiratory illness in humans, with a mortality rate above 35% according to the World Health Organization (1,955 human cases confirmed, including 742 fatalities since 2012). As camels carry the virus without presenting any clinical signs, or only very mild signs, humans can be infected without warning. Therefore, MERS-CoV normally can only be detected after human infection and by applying advanced laboratory techniques. The techniques that were presented in the APHL’s training course can be used for active and passive surveillance of camel populations to identify the presence of the virus before humans are infected. Sixteen scientists from Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates were represented in the training course.  

Provided that the necessary funding is secured, the new laboratory space in the FML will help the scientists of the APHL to deliver improved services to help Member States increase animal production and more effectively control transboundary animal and zoonotic diseases.

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