The UN atomic agency is sending an initial batch of equipment to about 40 countries with which they will be able to perform a standard test for the coronavirus involving a technique derived from nuclear science, it said on Wednesday.
The technique, real time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, or real time RT-PCR, is commonly used in developed countries to tell whether someone is infected. It detects the coronavirus’s RNA, its genetic fingerprint, on a swab sample.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is known for its nuclear inspection work in countries like Iran but it also has a mandate to help countries use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. It has received requests for assistance with coronavirus testing from 90 member states.
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The initial batch is part of a wider effort funded from the IAEA’s budget and extra contributions from member states including $6 million from the United States, which has come under fire for its own deployment of testing, and 5 million Canadian dollars ($3.52 million) from Ottawa.
“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,” the IAEA
said in a statement.
“They will also receive biosafety supplies, such as personal protection equipment and laboratory cabinets for the safe analysis of collected samples.”
The pandemic has overwhelmed medical systems in some of the world’s most advanced countries, and testing is key to measuring, locating and containing outbreaks. That has raised fears the toll in the developing world will be even worse.
Iran, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam, Cuba, Peru and Uruguay are among the larger and more technologically advanced countries that will receive the first batch of equipment, worth around 4 million euros ($4.37 million).
Recipients in Latin America include Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay. In Asia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka are among them.
The African countries include Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Namibia, Senegal, Sudan and Togo.
Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority will receive equipment, as will Armenia, Georgia and Bosnia, and Caribbean countries including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
“IAEA staff are working hard to ensure that this critical equipment is delivered as quickly as possible where it is most needed,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said.