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FAO and IAEA offer technical support to Member Countries to fight COVID-19

The People’s Republic of China and several other countries have been hit by an outbreak of a severe acute respiratory syndrome, Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), caused by a new virus strain (SARS-CoV-2). The genetic sequence of the new virus has similarities with other coronaviruses but is different from the previously isolated Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) viruses. The Government of China is deploying extraordinary efforts to contain the outbreak and alleviate the impact on the population. Investigations to determine the origin of the outbreak and understand the involvement of animals as virus hosts, carriers and vectors are ongoing.


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in partnership with the International Atomic energy Agency (IAEA), will provide technical advice and support to Member Countries for the use of nuclear and related technologies in their response to actual or possible COVID‑19 outbreaks, including the sterilization of the medical healthcare products used during the emergency response.


Furthermore, the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture (AGE) and the Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) are closely working with the IAEA’s Division of Human Health and Technical Cooperation Department to provide emergency support and training to affected and at-risk Member Countries to strengthen their capabilities to respond to the outbreaks and their preparedness to prevent future ones, with focus on supporting the implementation of diagnostics at the animal-human interface.


Emergency diagnostic kits including critical laboratory testing reagents, personal protective equipment, sampling materials, disinfectants, consumables and other equipment required for detection of SARS-CoV-2, will be distributed to Member Countries through the Veterinary Disease Diagnostic Laboratories Network, VETLAB. This will be crucial for early detection of the virus and rapid diagnosis of the disease, particularly in Member States where laboratories have limited diagnostic and biosafety capabilities.


Regional training courses are being organized for veterinary and medical experts from Africa and Asia to provide them with relevant scientific knowledge and hands-on experience on the use of nuclear and nuclear-derived technologies. This will be an essential component of response to, and preparedness for possible outbreaks in their territories. Designed according to the One Health approach, the training courses will cover crucial aspects of detection, characterization and monitoring of the virus at the animal-human interface. This will include: biosafety measures during sampling and sample processing; contribution of nuclear and nuclear-derived techniques to the identification of COVID-19; techniques for accurate characterization of virus strains in circulation in animals; methods for monitoring the virus in the environment.


The first training course is scheduled for 30 March - 9 April 2020 and will be held at the Joint IAEA/FAO Laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria. It is open for two medical and two veterinary professionals from the officially designated laboratories. Other regional courses will be organized and delivered with the effective assistance of the VETLAB Network.

FAO and IAEA continue to work closely with various partners to assist member countries, through sharing information, capacity building and transfer of technologies, coordinating actions and stepping up preparedness – read more on COVID-19.