The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is dispatching a first batch of equipment to more than 40 countries to enable them to use a nuclear-derived technique to rapidly detect the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This emergency assistance is part of the IAEA's response to requests for support from around 90 Member States in controlling an increasing number of infections worldwide. Several countries have announced major funding contributions for this initiative.
Laboratories in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean will receive diagnostic machines and kits, reagents and laboratory consumables to speed up national testing, which is crucial in containing the outbreak. They will also receive biosafety supplies, such as personal protection equipment and laboratory cabinets for the safe analysis of collected samples.
"IAEA staff are working hard to ensure that this critical equipment is delivered as quickly as possible where it is most needed," said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. "Providing this assistance to countries is an absolute priority for the Agency."
The nuclear-derived DNA amplification method originally used radioactive isotope markers to detect genetic material from a virus in a sample
The IAEA is using its own resources as well as extrabudgetary funding for its emergency COVID-19 assistance. Member States have so far announced more than €9.5 million in extrabudgetary financial contributions to the IAEA for this purpose, including US $6 million from the United States, CAD $5 million from Canada and €500 000 from the Netherlands. Australia has also made an important contribution. In addition, China has informed the IAEA about donations of detection equipment, kits, reagents and other medical materials worth US $2 million and provision of expert services.
The first batch of supplies, worth around €4 million, will help countries use the technique known as real time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (real time RT-PCR). This is the most sensitive technique for detecting viruses currently available. The nuclear-derived DNA amplification method originally used radioactive isotope markers to detect genetic material from a virus in a sample. Subsequent refining of the technique has led to the more common use today of fluorescent markers.
In recent weeks, the IAEA, in collaboration with the FAO, has provided guidance on coronavirus detection to 124 laboratory professionals in 46 Member States through VETLAB, a network of veterinary laboratories in Africa and Asia originally set up by the two organisations to combat the cattle disease rinderpest. The support included the provision of Standard Operating Procedures to identify the virus following WHO recommendations. VETLAB helps participating countries to improve the early detection of transboundary animal and zoonotic diseases, such as Ebola and COVID-19.