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IAEA's Support for COVID-19 Testing Equipment Benefits over 28 million People


An IAEA donated COVID-19 diagnostic test kit was delivered to the Reference Laboratory of the Scientific Research Institute of Virology, Uzbekistan in December 2020. The IAEA is dispatching equipment to countries and territories around the world to enable them to use a nuclear-derived technique to rapidly detect the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. (Photo: Reference Laboratory of the Scientific Research Institute of Virology)

At the request of governments from all over the world, the IAEA has delivered COVID-19 testing support and equipment to 286 laboratories in 128 countries and territories since March 2020 for the rapid and accurate detection of the disease.

“The impact of our work to save lives and livelihoods has helped more than 28 million people so far,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at last week’s Board of Governors meeting. But we need to remain vigilant, responsible and responsive, he added, as countries are facing stark capability gaps in responding to outbreaks. “We must address this inequity, not only to help those countries in need, but also to protect the wider international community.”

The IAEA assistance is to help countries boost their use of real time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests – the most accurate and widely used nuclear-derived method to detect specific genetic material from pathogens, including viruses.

The COVID-19 assistance is the biggest emergency operation in the IAEA’s history. Several countries and the private sector have provided the IAEA with over €27 million in funding for efforts to help countries tackle the pandemic. 

In addition to RT-PCR diagnostic equipment, the IAEA is providing reagents and consumables to laboratories to speed up national testing. Items include biosafety supplies, such as personal protection equipment (PPE) and laboratory cabinets to ensure the safe handling, storage and analysis of collected samples.

The IAEA is also providing technical guidance and advice for health and laboratory professionals through webinars and videos online. Topics covered include guidance on establishing molecular diagnostic laboratories, and assessment of required equipment and quality control measures to ensure samples are appropriately collected, stored and analysed using RT-PCR.

“In a time of great global demand for testing equipment during this pandemic, we needed to overcome many logistical challenges to ensure we could meet the requests of our Member States for much needed support,” said Liu Hua, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation. “We continue to closely monitor deliveries and keep our counterparts timely informed and involved through the entire process so that this assistance can provide the maximum benefit to our Member States.”

The IAEA is also working to provide COVID-related training through webinars for health care providers in nuclear medicine and radiology facilities. This is aimed to help health professionals adjust their standard operating procedures to minimize the risks of infection from the virus among patients, staff and the public.

Multinational cooperation for emergency delivery

In the past year, the IAEA worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to provide guidance and information on COVID-19 detection to medical and veterinary laboratories, including standard operating procedures to identify the virus in line with WHO guidelines. This continues a long partnership which has strengthened countries capacities to detect and control zoonotic diseases such as Ebola and Zika, as well as many significant animal diseases.

The IAEA is also part of the COVID-19 Crisis Management Team, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), comprising of 14 United Nations entities.

Continuing support for other needed health services

The pandemic had a detrimental effect on countries’ abilities to provide quality care in other areas, such as cancer. In this respect, the IAEA continued working to deliver training and equipment to support countries in the use of diagnostic and treatment services using nuclear and radiation techniques. This included certifying quality assurance procedures for diagnostic radiology, and the protection of patients when receiving radiotherapy during the pandemic.

To ensure IAEA Member States could still develop and progress their national cancer plans, the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy in conjunction with WHO, adapted its expert assessments of national cancer control capacities and needs, known as imPACT Reviews, to a mix of virtual and in-country interactions so continuous support could be provided to national counterparts despite the travel restrictions.

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