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Strengthening national capabilities for medical response to radiation emergencies in Latin America: An example of successful cooperation with France

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The long-standing cooperation between France and the IAEA is helping to build vital medical capacities in the Latin American region for responding to emergencies involving people with radiation-induced injuries. The cooperation is taking place within the framework of an ongoing regional technical cooperation (TC) project1, which aims to strengthen national capabilities for response to radiological and nuclear emergencies in Latin American countries. Through the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) and the Hôpital d'instruction des armées Percy (HIA Percy), the French government supports the IAEA's efforts to bolster emergency response capacities in the region.

France is a signatory of two emergency conventions: the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency. Furthermore, following the French registration in the IAEA Response and Assistance Network (RANET), both IRSN and HIA Percy have contributed to the treatment of Latin-American workers accidentally exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation. The exposed workers have been treated using newly developed techniques and medical protocols available in France since 2005, but until recently not available in the Latin-American region.

In order to explore the possibility of expanding accessibility to this treatment under the TC programme, the Director of the Latin America Division of the Technical Cooperation Department and the Head of the IAEA's Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) visited the Hôpital Percy in 2012, where they met with French counterparts. The goal of their discussion was to improve access for Latin-American Member States to medical advances and new therapeutic approaches, such as surgery guided by dosimetry and the use of Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC) in a combined protocol, which reflect the state of the art in treatment of persons exposed to high doses of ionizing radiation.

This initial contact in 2012 crystallized later in the work plan of the aforementioned TC project.  

Past examples of cooperation between the IEC, the Department of Technical Cooperation, and French organizations with Latin-American countries include:

  • In 2013, a Peruvian worker was treated for severe recurrences of cutaneous radiation syndrome in Chile, one year after being accidentally overexposed (2012 in Peru). An expert mission was organized by the IEC in cooperation with the TC Department, IRSN, and HIA Percy, facilitating the transfer of French medical knowledge and therapy methods to Chilean health professionals, and culminating in the successful treatment of the irradiated patient.
  • In August 2014, an expert mission organized by the IAEA in cooperation with HIA Percy, IRSN, and Brazil for the treatment of another worker who, after being accidentally exposed to an industrial radiography source, developed a severe cutaneous radiation syndrome and was then treated with the same French protocol, combining surgery guided by dosimetry and a scheme of MSC injections. A Peruvian doctor and other Brazilian health professionals benefited from the know-how and expertise of the French team.
  • In December 2014, six Latin American physicians received training in HIA Percy on state-of-the-art treatments of radiation injuries, including stem cell production, surgical treatment and cell therapy. The participants were from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, and are all currently working in hospitals provisionally identified as national reference centres for the initial treatment of radiation injuries. It is expected that the knowledge acquired by each participant will be instrumental in supporting capacity-building efforts, not only in their own country but also at the regional level. The countries targeted in this pilot training were those that have the highest potential and willingness to establish a regional Capacity Building Centre specialized in the medical response to radiation emergencies in Latin America.

The goal of the current IAEA project is to have at least one medical centre fully equipped for the primary treatment of persons injured by ionizing radiation in the Latin American region by 2018. With the support and cooperation of France, this future centre will serve as a recognized IAEA Regional Capacity Building Centre.

The regional project also has other outputs connected to the improvement of regional capabilities for emergency preparedness and response. For instance, with the support of the European Union under the Instrument of Nuclear Safety Cooperation, a School on Radiation Emergency Management will take place this year in Brazil. This major event is being preceded by a number of activities aiming at the formal implementation of at least one Capacity Building Centre in the region.

1 RLA/9/076

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