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New Equipment, New Graduates to Increase Impact of Nuclear Science in Madagascar

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Blanche Nirina Richard, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, officially received the new equipment provided by the IAEA, on behalf of the Government of Madagascar. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Antananarivo, Madagascar – New equipment worth over €600 000 officially handed over to the Government of Madagascar yesterday, means the country again has a functioning gamma camera for nuclear imaging, and its experts in many fields from soil science to isotope hydrology and mining research can pursue state-of-the-art research in support of the country’s development objectives.

“The Government of Madagascar is fully committed to the peaceful use of nuclear technology and to reap its many benefits for our population,” said Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Blanche Nirina Richard. “This work, and our cooperation with the IAEA, has already led to many tangible benefits in the country.”

These benefits include a full study of the groundwater table in the southeastern, arid part of Madagascar, using isotopic techniques, and identification of areas where the groundwater recharges frequently and therefore can be used for both drinking water and irrigation. This has led to the revitalization of agriculture in the area, said Joël Rajaobelison, Director General of the National Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (INSTN Madagascar). The isotope hydrology lab of INSTN was among those receiving new equipment and consumables yesterday.

The biggest item both in size and expense is the gamma camera, to be housed in a hospital on the outskirts of the capital Antananarivo. Using this equipment, doctors will be able to diagnose over 20 people suspected of cancer and various other noncommunicable diseases each day. The gamma camera is a tool used in nuclear medicine used to carry out scans of various parts of the body. It creates an image based on tiny amounts of radiation emitted by tracers introduced into a patient’s body.

“Thanks to this equipment we can identify cancer metastasis in bone at least nine months earlier than using other techniques such as X-ray, with a great benefit on patient management,” said Rasata Ravelo, Head of Nuclear Medicine at the Andohatapenaka hospital.

The hospital’s previous gamma camera, provided by a private donor, had broken down and has not been used since 2017.

The IAEA, through its technical cooperation programme and with the assistance of qualified physicians, will support the hospital in launching the operations of the new equipment and has arranged for training of its physicians and technical staff to facilitate the safe and effective use of the machine.

Offering further training to researchers is as important as the pieces of equipment themselves, said Abdou Ndiath, the IAEA Project Management Officer working with Madagascar. “We are supporting the country’s development objectives through complex interventions,” he said.

Over 500 Malagasy experts have participated in training courses, fellowships and scientific visits over the last ten years, Ndiath said. These include Toky Mirindra Andriambarimanana, a young radiation protection specialist, who yesterday graduated with a Master’s degree in nuclear security at INSTN, and who as part of his training participated in an IAEA nuclear security course in Morocco last month. “As the amount of radioactive material in Madagascar increases, we need to make sure it is well protected,” he said. Andriambarimanana, who works at the national fire service, participated in the protection of a visit by Pope Francis to the country last month, as a nuclear security expert. Nuclear security is a standard part of the precautions put in place for major public events.

Sambatra Rosa Randivoson, another one of yesterday’s graduates, is also a radiation protection specialist, who operates a radiotherapy machine in a hospital. “With my degree in nuclear security, I will be able to contribute not only to the safe but also to the secure use of radiation sources,” she said.

The IAEA will continue to support experts and the government, Ndiath said. He will spend the next few days working with his counterparts from across the country to design the new Country Programme Framework for Madagascar – ensuring that support from the IAEA remains aligned with the government’s development objectives.

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