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Nuclear Techniques in Human Health: Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Vienna Austria

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

(As prepared for delivery)

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to open the 2017 IAEA Scientific Forum on the role of nuclear technology in improving human health.

We are honoured that His Majesty King Letsie III of Lesotho is here with us today. The Kingdom of Lesotho is a recent member of the IAEA, but it has already developed a very close working relationship with the Agency, particularly in the area of health.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since they were first used in the 1930s, nuclear techniques have made a huge contribution to human well-being and saved tens of millions of lives.

From prevention to palliation, radiation medicine plays an essential role in the diagnosis, treatment and management of a wide range of diseases.

It is especially valuable in tackling the major killers of our time: non-communicable diseases.

Cancer and cardiovascular conditions are the leading causes of death in the world, accounting for 26.5 million of the 56.4 million deaths recorded in 2015. Nuclear techniques can make a real difference in these areas.

Nuclear and isotopic techniques also help with many other conditions, including monitoring malnutrition in all its forms, from undernutrition to obesity.

In the next two days, you will hear stories of how nuclear-based tools have helped policy-makers improve pre-school feeding programmes in Chile, and how they can help measure the impact of environmental hazards, such as poor sanitation, on child growth.

Today, there will be a session on new trends in medical imaging in the management of health conditions, including neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The enormous benefits of nuclear technology for human health are clear. However, many developing countries lack both equipment and the trained medical and technical experts needed to make full use of the latest nuclear techniques. The IAEA is working to change that, mainly by providing training.

For many years, we have helped countries to establish nuclear medicine and radiotherapy facilities. We provide specialist training for doctors, medical physicists, radiologists, nurses and researchers.

The IAEA helped to establish the Africa Radiation Oncology Network (AFRONET), which enables professionals in radiotherapy centres in a number of African countries to discuss individual cancer cases online and reach a consensus on treatment.

This is known as a Virtual Tumour Board and it has helped to strengthen clinical decision-making in many countries.

The AFRONET model is being expanded to Francophone Africa and to other regions of the world, including the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.

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

Human health is one of the top priorities for the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme, which is the main mechanism for supporting capacity-building in Member States. Much of this support is delivered in the form of specialized training.

IAEA training is not just for students and newcomers. We also help experienced medical practitioners and technologists to maintain and update their skills and to keep pace with technological advances.

You will see examples of some of these innovative IAEA tools during the Scientific Forum.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is estimated that 10 million people undergo diagnostic and therapeutic procedures involving medical radiation every day.

The IAEA’s dosimetry and quality assurance services help to ensure that patients receive the correct dose of radiation and that both patients and medical staff are protected from unnecessary exposure.

These services are provided by our Dosimetry Laboratory at Seibersdorf, near Vienna. That laboratory will soon be equipped with a linear accelerator as part of a modernisation of the Seibersdorf complex. This will significantly enhance the assistance we provide to Member States in delivering safe and effective radiotherapy treatment for cancer.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Agency has been celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Our motto is Atoms for Peace and Development.

Transferring peaceful nuclear technology to developing countries has been a priority for the Agency since the start. Improving cancer control in developing countries is an especially important part of our work.

I am confident that your discussions will bring us new insights and ideas on how to improve the services we offer.

I am grateful to the many experts, both on the podium and in the audience, who have come to share their knowledge with us at this IAEA Scientific Forum.

I wish you a very successful meeting.

Thank you.