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Making headways towards radiation protection of patients: IAEA partners with the Spanish Joint Congress to improve patient protection

Spanish Joint Congress

The curative, diagnostic and therapeutic potential of nuclear technologies is universally recognized-in healthcare centres around the world, patients and doctors benefit both from the information supplied through radiation imaging, and the cure or palliation  provided by radiotherapy. However, while nuclear applications can stem the growth of malignant tumours and cancers, if used improperly, they can grievously harm patients. As technology in this industry continues to grow, both in ambition and sophistication, a complementary growth in safety assurances is required.

Aware of the need to minimize risks and strengthen safety measures, the Spanish Society of Radiation Protection (SEPR) and the Spanish Society of Medical Physicists (SEFM) have co-organized a Congress, held in Valencia, Spain from 23-26 June, in order to consider the pivotal role of safety in their medical domain.

A growing regional need

Among the many uses of radioactive sources, medical applications are not only the most common in the Latin America and Caribbean region, but render the most social dividends, as well. Unfortunately, despite the regional interest in diagnostic and interventional radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy, significant improvements must be made in patient and occupational radiation protection, both at the national level and among major end-user institutions. Some IAEA Member States lack national dosimetry registries; some require access to training courses on new technologies; others must enhance their safety culture for the management of radioactive sources and installations. Without the appropriate safety measures, patients and doctors risk being overexposed to radiation, which can induce serious health complications. In the case of patients, underexposure may have consequences as well.

With presentations and discussions scheduled throughout the week, the 4th Joint SEPR-SEFM Congress is gathering hundreds of safety and security experts, healthcare providers, and national representatives to scrutinize capacity and infrastructure gaps, in the hopes of strengthening compliance with safety regulations and requirements in the Latin American and Caribbean region. 

IAEA support and sponsorship

Reflecting the IAEA's statutory interest in establishing and adopting standards of safety, several high-level staff members were in attendance to share the Agency's perspective on occupational and medical radiation protection.

Luis Carlos Longoria, Director of the Department of Technical Cooperation's (TC) Division for Latin America, provided the Congress' opening remarks. "Approximately 35% of Latin American and Caribbean Member States lack regulatory controls which meet all international standards," explained Mr Longoria, "We need effective and coherent partnerships to facilitate our work." The need to develop strong, sustainable regional partnerships was echoed by Mr Juan Carlos Lentijo, Director of the Division for Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, who delivered a presentation on existing standards for the management of nuclear waste.

The IAEA's participation in this event was a collaborative effort between three Agency departments: The Departments of Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Safety & Security, and Technical Cooperation.

The general theme of the Joint Congress, "Health and Physics: Challenges of Medical Physics and Radiation Protection," is closely linked to the efforts of an ongoing, regional technical cooperation (TC) project which seeks to strengthening national infrastructure for end-users to comply with regulations and radiological protection requirements'among the 20 participating Member States. As part of that project (RLA9075), the IAEA sponsored the participation of 25 experts from Latin America and the Caribbean to Valencia to take part in the Congress. On the margins of the Congress, they also discussed how best to implement the findings and recommendations made at the December 2012 Conference on Radiation Protection in Medicine, held in Bonn, Germany. While the application of ionizing radiation benefits millions of people each year, the Bonn Conference identified a growing need to promote the full integration of radiation protection into health care systems, to improve the benefit-risk dialogue with patients and the public, and to harmonize and co-ordinate activities and procedures at an international level.

The benefits of diagnostic and interventional radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy are well-documented and clear. However, employing radiation in the medical field must involve a cautious balance between the benefits of enhancing human health and overall welfare, and the risks related to accidentally exposing patients to ionizing rays. Through the 4th Joint Congress of SEPR and SEFM, and through similar meetings, the international community will learn how best to strike that balance between help and harm.

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