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Coronavirus / IAEA Launches ‘Zodiac’ Project To Establish Global Laboratory Network

By David Dalton
15 June 2020

Aim is to give states access to nuclear or nuclear-derived techniques
IAEA Launches ‘Zodiac’ Project To Establish Global Laboratory Network
IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi. Image courtesy IAEA/D. Calma.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is launching a project to establish a global network of diagnostic laboratories that can conduct monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of emerging and reemerging zoonotic diseases such as the Covid-19 coronavirus using nuclear or nuclear-derived techniques. 

The agency’s director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told a virtual board of governors meeting on Monday that the Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (Zodiac) project will give member states access to equipment, technology packages, expertise, guidance and training.

The aim is to make the world better prepared for future outbreaks. Mr Grossi 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”.

“With national laboratories connected to a regional network, and regional networks linked through a global platform, decision-makers will receive up-to-date information that will enable them to act quickly,” he said.

The IAEA is inviting organisations such as the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation to work with it on Zodiac.

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.

Zoonotic diseases are caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses that originate in animals and can be transmitted to humans. Many of these diseases are treatable if medication is available, such as E. coli- and brucella bacterial infections. But others have the potential to severely affect humans, such as Ebola, Sars and Covid-19.

Mr Grossi said that in the largest operation it has mounted, the agency has so far shipped 319 consignments of equipment for Covid-19 virus detection and diagnosis, accessories, personal protective equipment and other supplies to 88 countries.

He said shipments are underway to other countries, although some have faced delay because of restrictions on transport.

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