An initiative to strengthen global preparedness for future pandemics like COVID-19 has been launched by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The project, called ZODIAC, builds on the IAEA's experience in assisting countries in the use of nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques for the rapid detection of pathogens that cause transboundary animal diseases, including ones that spread to humans.ZODIAC will establish a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal and zoonotic diseases (Image: D Calma/IAEA)
Launched yesterday by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, the initiative aims to establish a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal and zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, avian influenza and Zika. Such diseases kill around 2.7 million people every year, according to the IAEA.
The Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) project is based on the technical, scientific and laboratory capacity of the IAEA and its partners, and the Agency's mechanisms to quickly deliver equipment and know-how to countries. Nuclear-derived techniques, such as tests using real time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), are important tools in the detection and characterisation of viruses. The IAEA is providing emergency assistance to some 120 countries in the use of such tests to rapidly detect COVID-19. The aim of the new project is to make the world better prepared for future outbreaks of diseases.
ZODIAC builds on the experience of VETLAB, a network of veterinary laboratories in Africa and Asia that was originally set up by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the IAEA to combat the cattle disease rinderpest. VETLAB now supports countries in the early detection of several zoonotic and animal diseases. ZODIAC aims to help veterinary and public health officials identify these diseases before they spread. The project will benefit from the unique joint FAO/IAEA laboratories and from partners such as the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
"Member States will have access to equipment, technology packages, expertise, guidance and training. Decision-makers will receive up-to-date, user-friendly information that will enable them to act quickly," Grossi told a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. He said COVID-19 had exposed problems related to virus detection capabilities in many countries, as well as a need for better communication between health institutions around the world. While the IAEA has been doing important work to help countries in these areas, such as through the provision of COVID-19 tests, he said it was "essential to pull these diverse strands together into a coherent and comprehensive framework of assistance".
Researched and written by World Nuclear News