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Director General's Keynote Address at European Association of Nuclear Medicine Annual Congress 2017

Vienna, Austria

IAEA Director Genearl Yukiya Amano. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to speak at the 2017 Annual Congress of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine.

Your Association is one of the most valued partners of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Your support has been extremely helpful in enabling us to train professionals from more than 100 countries in nuclear medicine.

In 2016 and 2017 alone, more than 140 nuclear medicine professionals benefited from the cooperation between our two organizations, mostly through training in European countries. Thirty participants are attending this Congress thanks to the support of the IAEA.

In March this year, the IAEA and the EANM signed a Practical Arrangement. It sets out a framework for cooperation on capacity-building in diagnostic and therapeutic applications of nuclear medicine.

I am confident that our partnership will continue to grow in the coming years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

People are often surprised to hear the Director General of the IAEA talking about subjects such as nuclear medicine. Isn’t our work about preventing the spread of nuclear weapons?

Well, yes. But an important part of our mandate is also to make the benefits of peaceful nuclear science and technology available to developing countries, and health is a priority area for our 168 Member States.

I have taken a strong personal interest in health in developing countries since I visited Nigeria in December 2009, during my first few weeks as Director General.

I was shocked to learn that cancer diagnosis and treatment facilities for this nation of 173 million people were completely inadequate. There was a massive shortage of equipment for radiotherapy and nuclear medicine, as well as of trained medical and technical personnel.

Many people died of conditions that could be diagnosed early, and treated effectively, if they lived in developed nations, where nuclear medicine and radiotherapy services are taken for granted.

I learned that breast cancer was the most common malignancy among Nigerian women, but their prognosis was generally poor because of late presentation. The absence of facilities for early detection and diagnosis meant many women did not seek medical help until tumours were visible.

In addition, the stigma attached to cancer meant that many breast cancer patients simply went into hiding and waited to die. This is an immense human tragedy.

I found similar situations in many other developing countries. This left me with a passion for improving access to the remarkable benefits of nuclear medicine and radiotherapy in developing countries.

And that is why I am very happy to have the honour of speaking to you today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since the IAEA was established in Vienna 60 years ago, we have helped developing countries to use nuclear science and technology in health, energy, food and agriculture, water management and many other areas. This side of our activities is not as well-known as it deserves to be.

The IAEA’s work in human health is unique. Our Human Health Programme provides a comprehensive approach to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of health conditions in four main areas: nutrition; nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging; radiation oncology and radiobiology; and dosimetry and quality assurance.

Cancer is a strong focus of IAEA activities, but we also offer support in areas such as neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular conditions. We make stable isotope techniques available to combat malnutrition, enabling doctors to evaluate a child’s body composition or energy expenditures.

In my remarks this evening, I will focus on nuclear medicine in particular.

The problems faced by developing countries in offering nuclear medicine are enormous. A 2013 paper by Nigerian researchers cited a daunting list of difficulties, including: lack of availability of radioisotopes and kits, erratic power supply, aged equipment, lack of local service facilities for equipment, the absence of telemedicine, and problems with radiation safety and radioactive waste management.

The IAEA works to help countries deal with these challenges. We have been providing support in the field of nuclear medicine since 1958.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Capacity-building is a key focus of our work. We help countries to establish multi-disciplinary teams of professionals, including nuclear medicine physicians, technologists, medical physicists and radiopharmacists. We also assist them in procuring equipment, as well as with clinical research and dosimetry.

Since 1977, the IAEA has implemented over 750 nuclear medicine projects in 138 countries. We work both with individual hospitals, and at the policy level.

We arrange education and training for nuclear medicine physicians and radiopharmacists in hospitals and research centres in more developed countries. We train medical physicists at our own nuclear applications laboratories near Vienna.

Our Human Health Campus website is a unique educational resource for professionals in medical physics, nuclear medicine, radiology, radiation oncology and nutrition, providing insight into clinical practice.

Launched in 2010, it has 240,000 regular users and 5,000 monthly visitors. Over one million pages have been viewed since launch. The EANM has recorded 21 webinars for the IAEA Human Health Campus. We are very grateful for your contribution.

The IAEA helps experienced medical practitioners and technologists to maintain and update their skills and to keep pace – throughout their careers – with technological advances.

Last year, we presented the IAEA Curricula for Nuclear Medicine Professionals in order to provide a structured and continuous professional training programme for specialists in the field.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA also supports important research projects. We have worked with more than 1,300 leading research institutions throughout the world.

Some years ago, we launched a project with researchers from 11 countries, including Hungary, Turkey, the United Kingdom, France and Italy. It involved 383 patients with a form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who were monitored over two years using PET scans.

The project produced the largest database of these types of PET scan studies to date, as well as recommendations on how doctors can evaluate scans to effectively treat patients with this condition.

The study received international recognition and an award as best paper of the year from the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

Eleven IAEA research projects now underway cover the four major pillars of nuclear medicine: cardiology, oncology, neurology and infectious diseases.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our work at the policy level includes helping governments to put national plans in place to offer comprehensive cancer care to their people.

We send expert missions to assess the level of nuclear medicine and radiotherapy services in a country and offer recommendations on improvements.

We then help countries to plan and build nuclear medicine and radiotherapy facilities. We advise on the choice of the most appropriate equipment for those facilities and how to build the bunkers that house radiotherapy equipment.

We assist countries in putting the necessary nuclear laws on the statute book and creating effective nuclear regulatory bodies. Failure to have legislation and regulators in place can make it difficult for countries to obtain radioactive sources on the international market.

We establish global nuclear safety standards and nuclear security guidance and assist countries in implementing them. We offer dosimetry and quality assurance services and we help with the safe and secure disposal of disused radioactive sources at the end of their lifetime.

We assist countries in putting together proposals so they can get loans from regional banks and other funding agencies.

In short, the IAEA provides an extensive and comprehensive package of services which cover everything that a country needs in order to make optimal use of nuclear technology in health care.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me give you a few examples of our work in Europe.

We helped Moldova to acquire SPECT/CT and PET/CT systems. We provided training to professionals and supported the establishment of clinical protocols and of the necessary safety infrastructure.  

We are presently helping Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia to procure SPECT/CT systems.  

Earlier this month, the IAEA held a training course, in cooperation with the Jules Bordet Institute in Belgium, on theranostics and molecular radiotherapy, which was attended by 120 professionals from 30 countries.

Regional European projects planned for the next two years include strengthening nuclear medicine capabilities across the continent and applying best practices for quality and safety in diagnostic radiology.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me say a little more about safety.

It is estimated that around 10 million people undergo diagnostic, therapeutic or interventional procedures involving medical radiation every day. Helping to ensure that such procedures are safe is an integral part of our work.

The IAEA develops Fundamental Safety Principles and safety standards, which have established a strong framework for nuclear safety throughout the world.

Our Dosimetry Laboratory near Vienna is at the heart of a global network of dosimetry labs run by the IAEA in cooperation with the World Health Organization. It disseminates standards for radiation measurements in radiation medicine and radiation protection. It provides dosimetry auditing services for radiotherapy centres throughout the world, free of charge.

The Laboratory also supports the development of dosimetry codes of practice, conducts research to improve dosimetry and calibration techniques, and conducts specialized training in dosimetry for professionals in Member States. 

We recently announced the acquisition of our first medical linear accelerator at the Dosimetry Laboratory. When operational next year, this will significantly enhance the assistance we can provide to hospitals around the world in the safe and effective use of radiotherapy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to say that I have seen some improvement in the availability of nuclear medicine and radiotherapy facilities in Nigeria, and in other developing countries, in the past eight years. But the needs remain huge.

So my message to you as some of the world’s leading professionals in nuclear medicine is: please share your considerable expertise with your colleagues in developing countries.  

Invite doctors, technologists, radiopharmacists and medical physicists as IAEA Fellows to your country, or your institution, for training. Offer your services as a teacher or lecturer on IAEA training programmes. Take part in IAEA expert missions. All of these activities have real impact in saving lives in developing countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

IAEA Member States were kind enough last month to appoint me for another four-year term as Director General, starting in December.

In the coming years, I will continue to do everything I can to help ensure that all countries will be able to offer the best possible health care for their people, and make full use of all that nuclear medicine has to offer.

I invite all of you to join us in that noble enterprise.

Thank you.

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