Supporting Central America: Director General Amano Visits El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala

From left to right: Sonia Castro, Minister for Health of Nicaragua, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano with other panel members at the regional workshop on radiation protection in medical and industrial applications, Nicaragua. (Photo: C. Brady/IAEA)

A country doesn’t necessarily need to have nuclear power plants to benefit from the peaceful applications of nuclear technology. This is the case in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, which all use nuclear technology extensively in medicine, water management and agriculture. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano discussed cooperation in these and other areas during his visit to the three countries over the last week.

Ministers expressed appreciation for the IAEA’s technical cooperation projects, training courses, workshops, fellowships and scientific visits,which have helped them in the effective use of nuclear technologies. Mr Amano confirmed the IAEA’s commitment to continue supporting the countries, including in their efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. He also discussed ways in which the IAEA could help to reduce the population of mosquitoes that carry the Zika and other viruses using the sterile insect technique.

Cancer – and the IAEA’s work in helping countries to combat it – was a main topic of discussion in all three capitals. Last year in El Salvador, for example, the IAEA, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted a joint review of the country’s readiness to implement a cancer control programme. On the basis of the findings, the IAEA is now supporting the government in developing a cancer control policy, and in improving the quality of cancer treatment in the country.

Mr Amano encouraged all three countries to join or ratify the amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, a key amendment that strengthens countries’ obligation to physically protect nuclear material. Mr Amano also emphasized the IAEA’s role in ensuring the exclusive uses of nuclear energy and technology for peaceful uses, making reference to the 1967 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, also known as the Tlatelolco Treaty.

Nicaragua

In Managua, Nicaragua, Mr Amano met President Daniel Ortega, and discussed cooperation in cancer control and other uses of nuclear technology for development, as well as nuclear security. He also opened a regional workshop on radiation protection in medical and industrial applications, which brought together 17 countries from across Latin America and the Caribbean. Mr Amano also visited the Nora Astorga National Radiotherapy Centre.

Nicaragua was the first country in the region where the IAEA conducted a review mission to evaluate the country’s readiness for cancer control. Although the country has progressed in the field of oncology – the use of radiation to treat cancer – Nicaragua plans to further develop this technology, said Minister for Health Sonia Castro.

El Salvador

Mr Amano and Luis Carlos Longoria, Director of the IAEA’s Division for Latin America and the Caribbean, meet scientists in El Salvador. (Photo: C. Brady/IAEA)

At his meeting with Mr Amano, Vice President Óscar Ortiz talked of the IAEA’s robust role in promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear technology and the valuable support El Salvador has received. They also discussed the use of nuclear techniques in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and IAEA assistance in controlling mosquito populations carrying the Zika virus using the sterile insect technique.

Mr Amano also visited the University of El Salvador to see the results of two IAEA-supported projects. One had improved scientists’ capability to monitor pollution in the marine environment using nuclear techniques while the other helped scientists to conserve ecosystems and threatened species and to assess the environmental impact of the Salvadoran coast.

Guatemala

Mr Amano meets scientists in Guatemala. (Photo: C. Brady/IAEA)

Radiotherapy, agriculture, food safety and radiation safety are areas in which the IAEA has supported Guatemala. In cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the IAEA has helped suppress fly pests in the country using the sterile insect technique. In the past 10 years, exports of fruit and vegetables including papayas, tomatoes and bell peppers from areas treated using this technique have increased by 480%, creating jobs in rural areas.

Mr Amano also visited the Dr. Bernardo del Valle National Cancer Institute (INCAN). The IAEA supported the installation of new equipment and provided training to medical and paramedical staff, increasing the coverage and quality of radiotherapy services in the country.

Last update: 10 March 2016