The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has so far delivered more than 250 consignments to 80 countries with supplies to help fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, with many more to be shipped in the coming days and weeks. The IAEA assistance includes equipment and expertise to help laboratories around the world step up testing as part of efforts to curb the spread of the disease.
“One hundred and twenty countries turned to us for help. We mounted the biggest operation of assistance in the history of the IAEA,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. “This is emergency assistance and the effort is going to continue. I am encouraging countries and entities in a position to do so to contribute in this endeavour.”
“We have been helping countries through the provision of RT-PCR equipment, as well as accessories for testing and sampling,” said Mr Grossi, adding that the IAEA is also providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and offering webinars and video guidance for health and laboratory professionals on sample collection and processing.
RT-PCR, or reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, is a nuclear-derived technique to quickly detect the virus causing COVID-19. The IAEA, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, has in the past helped countries use this method in the detection of Ebola and Zika, among other diseases.
A total of 80 countries have so far received COVID-19 testing supplies, such as laboratory consumables, key reagents, and biosafety equipment. Out of these, 49 have received PCR machines.
Peru was the first country to receive the testing equipment. The country has been hard hit by the pandemic. “The IAEA’s timely assistance has been critical,” said Susana Petrick, head of the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute (IPEN). “Our national laboratories were very concerned when COVID-19 cases started to appear, as they understood that the country would need to quickly increase its capacity to perform early identification of the virus using RT-PCR.” The equipment was provided to Peru’s National Institute of Health, which will distribute it to national laboratories.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the IAEA assistance is helping laboratories in Sarajevo and Banja Luka to keep check on the number of cases in the country, which has so far managed to contain the spread of COVID-19. “The equipment provided by the IAEA has helped us achieve the highest level of biosecurity,” said Maja Travar, head of the Department of Clinical Microbiology at the University Clinical Center of the Republika Srpska in Banja Luka. “The new supplies will greatly improve diagnostic services to our patients and better protect staff on the frontline of sample collection and processing. I consider this donation very important to our country in these difficult times.” The IAEA is also providing equipment support to the Mostar veterinary laboratory, which monitors animal to human diseases such as COVID-19.
With a large and dispersed population, Morocco has seen clusters of COVID-19 cases appear throughout the country. The Ministry of Health is using the IAEA equipment to outfit a mobile laboratory, which started operations two weeks ago, to offer tests in disadvantaged communities that cannot easily access regular health services. “The mobile unit will cover all regions of Morocco,” said Abdelouahab Belmadani, Director for Planning and Financial Resources at the Moroccan Ministry of Health. “This innovative approach will greatly speed up our national COVID-19 diagnostic efforts.”
The IAEA COVID-19 assistance effort has drawn around €26 million in extrabudgetary funds, including support from IAEA Member States and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited. The equipment procured under the project is being shipped to all countries which requested assistance.