An initiative by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help some 120 countries contain the COVID-19 pandemic has received strong extrabudgetary backing from member states, with voluntary pledges so far totalling more than $23 million, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said today.
The funds will enable the IAEA to assist hundreds of laboratories around the world in the use of a nuclear-derived testing technique called real time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (real time RT-PCR). IAEA says the method is currently the fastest and most accurate to detect the virus causing COVID-19.
Several Member States have announced support for the IAEA’s assistance related to COVID-19, including $11 million from the United States, €4 million from Japan, CA $5 million from Canada, €2 million from Norway, €500,000 each from Germany, the Netherlands and the Russian Federation, €200,000 from Finland, along with contributions from Australia and others. In addition, China has announced in-kind support worth U.S. $2 million.
“We are very grateful for the swift and generous contributions from several member states and for their confidence in the IAEA’s ability to deliver emergency support around the world,” Grossi said. “The IAEA is an important partner to countries in battling this pandemic.”
Biopharmaceutical firm, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited, has also committed to donating 500 million yen (approximately $4.5 million) in support of the initiative.
This commitment is one of the largest ever private sector donations to the IAEA.
Grossi said Takeda’s contribution would allow the IAEA to significantly ramp up its activities in helping the world control the pandemic and dispatch more testing kits to countries in need. The project is the IAEA’s largest technical cooperation – both in terms of the amount of funding and the number of beneficiary countries – since the Vienna-based organization was founded in 1957.
“As part of our longstanding commitment to solve healthcare issues for people around the world, Takeda is proud to partner with the IAEA on this essential effort at the front lines of COVID-19,” said Takako Ohyabu, Chief Global Corporate Affairs Officer at Takeda. “We look forward to supporting the IAEA’s work to continue providing emergency assistance and help prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus as we strive to secure better health and a brighter future for people worldwide.”
“I firmly believe that together we will overcome this pandemic,” Mr Grossi said. “I also believe that this is not the last time that we will face the consequences of zoonotic diseases, which are occurring more frequently. We need to be better prepared to deal with such challenges in the future.”
The IAEA assistance comprises ready-to-run testing packages with personal protective equipment (PPE), PCR machines, and laboratory consumables and diagnostic kits. The IAEA also offers technical expertise and guidance and organizes webinars to train health professionals around the world.
The number of countries requesting IAEA assistance has increased to 119 from 10 two months ago. “When people turn to the IAEA for assistance in times of crisis, the IAEA has not failed them and will not fail them,” Grossi said at a video conference meeting of the Programme and Budget Committee of the IAEA Board of Governors.
The packages are being dispatched to countries in batches, taking into consideration current global supply market and transport limitations. Grossi said around 20 RT-PCR machines had been delivered to end users so far. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Iran, Latvia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Thailand and Togo are among the first to receive the equipment, which can be used immediately. Many other countries will receive the kits in the coming days and weeks.
The IAEA assistance to countries in tackling COVID-19 is delivered through its technical cooperation program, which supports the peaceful application of nuclear technology in areas such as human and animal health.
In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the IAEA has supported countries in the last decade with quick detection tests to fight epidemics caused by zoonotic, or animal to human, diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola and Zika.
This story was updated on May 13 to include the private sector funding news.