IAEA to Help West African Countries Diagnose Ebola

Vienna
2014/25

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will provide specialized diagnostic equipment to help Sierra Leone in its efforts to combat an ongoing Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano announced today. Later, the support is planned to be extended to Liberia and Guinea.

The support is in line with a UN Security Council appeal and responds to a request from Sierra Leone. The IAEA assistance will supplement the country's ability to diagnose EVD quickly using a diagnostic technology known as Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR).

The assistance, expected to be delivered in the coming weeks, initiates broader IAEA support to African Member States to strengthen their technological abilities to detect diseases transmitted from animals to humans - zoonotic diseases.

The IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have been at the forefront of developing RT-PCR, a nuclear-derived technology which allows EVD to be detected within a few hours, while other methods require growing on a cell culture for several days before a diagnosis is determined.

Early diagnosis of EVD, if combined with appropriate medical care, increases the victims' chance of survival and helps curtail the spread of the disease by making it possible to isolate and treat the patients earlier.

Health authorities in Sierra Leone and other affected countries are already applying RT-PCR, but their diagnostic capability is limited; there is a shortage of the diagnostic kits and other materials needed for the process and backup equipment is needed to avoid diagnostic downtime in case of equipment failure.

The IAEA will support the most affected countries' sustained ability to detect the disease in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

The IAEA, as part of its ongoing work, has helped 32 African countries and several other Member States develop skills and acquire equipment they need to use RT-PCR for diagnosis of animal diseases and zoonotic diseases. The method was instrumental in the global eradication of rinderpest, long a scourge of livestock.

"Transfer of nuclear-related technologies is a key part of the Agency's work, and we have cooperated with Member States for years to develop and strengthen their capacity to use this nuclear-derived technology," Director General Amano said. "With this additional support, the Agency makes a small but effective contribution to global efforts to fight the ongoing Ebola outbreak."

RT-PCR initially used radioactive isotopes as markers in the process that determines whether the virus is present in a sample. Subsequent refining of the method by the IAEA and partners has led to the possibility to use fluorescent markers instead of radioactive markers for screening purposes.

The IAEA will provide Sierra Leone with an RT-PCR machine, cooling systems, biosecurity equipment, diagnostic kits and other materials. Similar support will eventually be provided to Liberia and Guinea.

The IAEA also is developing an African regional project that would strengthen Member States' capacity to monitor wildlife and livestock to get early warning of possible zoonotic disease outbreaks in the medium- and longer-term.

Last update: 3 February 2016