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IAEA to Support Countries in the Detection of Novel Coronavirus

11/2020
Vienna, Austria

The nuclear-derived diagnostic technique known as real time RT-PCR can help detect and identify the novel coronavirus accurately within hours. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA) 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will provide diagnostic kits, equipment and training in nuclear-derived detection techniques to countries asking for assistance in tackling the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced today.

The assistance, requested by 14 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, is part of intensified global efforts to contain infections. The diagnostic technique, known as real time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (real time RT-PCR), can help detect and identify the novel coronavirus accurately within hours in humans, as well as in animals that may also host it.

“The Agency takes pride in its ability to respond quickly to crises, as we did in the recent past with the Ebola, Zika and African Swine Fever viruses,” said Mr Grossi in a statement to the IAEA Board of Governors. “Contributing to international efforts to deal with the coronavirus will remain a priority for me as long as the outbreak persists.”

The first training course in detection techniques will take place at the Joint IAEA/Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Animal Production and Health Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, in two weeks’ time and will include medical and veterinary experts from Cambodia, Republic of Congo, Cote d´Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. Additional regional courses will be organized for other countries, including from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Participants will be trained in biosafety and biosecurity procedures to protect health and veterinary workers during sampling and analysis and to prevent further external contamination. They will immediately receive emergency toolkits with personal protection equipment, specific diagnostic reagents and laboratory consumables. A number of national laboratories will also receive additional equipment, such as biosafety cabinets and real time RT-PCR devices.

Nuclear-derived techniques, such as real time RT-PCR, are important tools in the rapid detection and characterization of viruses, like the one causing COVID-19. “Such tools are the only means to have certainty,” said IAEA Nuclear Medicine Physician Enrique Estrada Lobato.

The training will include veterinary experts in an effort to increase countries’ preparedness in the early detection of viruses that cause zoonotic diseases – those originating in animals that can spread to humans. They will be trained to test domestic and wild animals implicated in the transmission of coronaviruses, such as the new strain SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19, and others that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

“If you know what is out there ahead of time, you have time to proactively prepare, either by developing vaccines or increasing your capacity for diagnosis and detection,” said Gerrit Viljoen,  Head of the Animal Production and Health Section of the Joint IAEA/FAO Programme for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

The assistance to countries in tackling COVID-19 is delivered through the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme, which supports the peaceful application of nuclear technology in areas such as human and animal health. It is funded through the IAEA’s Peaceful Uses Initiative, which was launched in 2010 to mobilize additional funding for such projects.

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