IAEA dispatches COVID-19 detection equipment

02 April 2020

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.

RT-PCR is a nuclear-derived technique that can help detect and identify the novel coronavirus accurately within hours (Image: D Calma/IAEA)

Dozens of 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. Further deliveries of equipment to the growing number of countries seeking assistance are expected in the coming weeks.

The first batch of supplies, worth around EUR4.0 million (USD4.4 million), will help countries use the technique known as real time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (real time RT-PCR). The IAEA says 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 instead.

"Real time RT-PCR is an established and accurate method to detect pathogens. We've seen the number of Member State requests for support to run such tests more than double in the past two weeks," said Ivancho Naletoski, technical officer at the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/IAEA Division for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. "Laboratories will receive diagnostic kits and accessories needed for the analysis, disposable protective gear and equipment for the molecular detection of this specific viral genome."

"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."

Funding contributions

Showing strong support for the initiative, several countries have announced major funding contributions for the IAEA's efforts in helping to tackle the pandemic. 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 EUR9.5 million in extrabudgetary financial contributions to the IAEA for this purpose, including USD6 million from the USA, CAD5 million from Canada and EUR500,000 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 USD2 million and provision of expert services.

"I am very grateful to the Governments of the United States, Canada, China, the Netherlands and Australia for their generous contributions," Grossi said. "I encourage others to contribute to this effort so that we can continue to swiftly respond to the growing demands from our Member States."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News