PH Thanks IAEA’s Nuclear Technology Assistance Package to Aid in COVID-19 Response
Left photo: Philippine Ambassador to Austria Maria Cleofe R. Natividad thanks the IAEA for its COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines during a virtual meeting on 11 May 2020. Right photo: A molecular biologist from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) performs RT-PCR, a nuclear-derived technique used in the detection of coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Dean Calma / IAEA)
VIENNA 18 May 2020 — In a virtual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Member States on 11 May 2020, Philippine Ambassador to Austria Maria Cleofe R. Natividad expressed the Philippine government’s appreciation to the Agency and its Director General, Rafael Mariano Grossi, for the COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines,
The Ambassador likewise conveyed her thanks to the donors who have made the Agency’s emergency response possible.
The Agency’s assistance package to the Philippines, which contained a mobile x-ray system, as well as various laboratory equipment, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other materials, was worth EUR 288,540.37 (approximately Php 16 million) and was delivered directly to the Department of Health. These equipment and materials will enhance the capacity of the Philippine healthcare system to detect COVID-19, supporting the Duterte administration’s T3 strategy: Test, Trace and Treat.
The IAEA is a multilateral organization based in Vienna dedicated to international cooperation in the nuclear field. The Philippines has been a member since 1958. The IAEA’s valuable assistance is being delivered under the Technical Cooperation Programme, which is the main vehicle for the Agency’s statutory function of encouraging and assisting research on, and development and practical application of, nuclear energy for peaceful uses throughout the world.
Peaceful uses of nuclear energy in addressing the pandemic
The IAEA’s assistance makes use of nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques to detect COVID-19, thereby demonstrating the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and its beneficial applications in medicine and health.
The package includes a mobile x-ray system, which may be used by healthcare providers to identify and characterize pulmonary abnormalities caused by the disease.
The package also contains equipment and materials for a nuclear-derived technique called “real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction” (RT-PCR), which remains the gold standard in COVID-19 testing, since it detects the presence of the actual coronavirus itself. RT-PCR testing may be broken down into the following steps: 1) collection of clinical samples from patients; 2) extraction of coronavirus genetic material (i.e. RNA) from samples; 3) conversion of viral RNA into DNA through a process called reverse transcription; 4) amplification of DNA, a process called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which has the following steps: a) denaturation of DNA; b) annealing of primers, which target specific coronavirus genes; c) DNA elongation; d) amplification (repetition of steps a to c for a predetermined number of cycles) and real-time quantification of DNA.
In the early days of RT-PCR, scientists made use of radioactive isotope probes to quantify the amount of target DNA in a sample. However, the method has since been refined to use fluorescent probes instead.
The IAEA has also been assisting its Member States in the use of RT-PCR to detect other diseases such as Ebola, Zika, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV1. END