By Christer Viktorsson
Director General of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR)
Since it emerged as a new virus in late December 2019 novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has had a severe impact across the world, leading to the World Health Organization declaring it a pandemic in March 2020. The United Arab Emirates has taken all necessary measures to protect the public by detecting, tracing and curbing the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention is working with competent authorities to curb Covid-19 by adopting various actions such as establishing examination centres, and so far, carrying out more than one million tests nationally, tracing and quarantining those suspected to be infected and isolating those known to be infected. The UAE's healthcare services are working diligently to ensure the recovery of all infected patients.
Radiation technologies play an indispensable part in diagnosing Covid-19 infection and monitoring treatment and recovery. Real Time RT-PCR (a nuclear-derived method for detecting the presence of specific pathogens, including viruses) is performed for persons suspected of being infected, after which the doctor may request a chest X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.
If Covid-19 symptoms are persistent and severe, the doctor may request computed tomography (CT) of the chest. A CT scanner is a sophisticated x-ray machine that produces computer-enhanced images like 'slices' through the patient. Chest CT provides the fine detailed images necessary to evaluate complications associated with severe Covid-19 infection of the lungs and to help with the management of treatment in severe and advanced cases. A CT scan will not be requested to initially diagnose Covid-19.
During the course of treatment and recovery, patients infected with Covid-19 may undergo several chest x-rays to monitor progress with their treatment and recovery. This is clinically justified and of great benefit to the patient. Chest x-rays contribute only a small part of the total radiation dose each of us receives annually from natural sources, air travel and in our working lives.
Clinical, industrial and research linear accelerators (high power x-ray generating devices) and blood irradiators (devices using x-rays to sterilize blood products) are available in many UAE facilities. It has been suggested that these might be used for 'sterilizing' personal protective equipment (PPE) and similar items used by first responders, customs officers and the police. However, unless such equipment was originally designed, installed and licensed for the purpose of sterilization, it is not capable of delivering the required sterilization doses.
Industrial radiation technologies and the medical radiological imaging equipment used for diagnosis and treatment is subject to FANR's regulatory oversight at all times and this vigilance continues, even during this Covid-19 crisis. FANR continues to regulate and inspect industrial and healthcare facilities to verify proper use of such equipment and its compliance with regulatory requirements for the radiation protection and safety of the public, patients and workers.
Internationally, the IAEA recently dispatched nuclear-derived detection tools to countries to tackle the spread of novel coronavirus. The IAEA supports countries globally by advancing nuclear science and is uses its resources to develop vaccines to control diseases such as the current pandemic. FANR works closely with the IAEA at all times, but particularly now, to ensure the UAE response to Covid-19 is at the forefront of effective action, based on shared global learning and experience.
In conclusion, using radiation technologies to curb Covid-19 is helping to swiftly diagnose and treat patients. FANR is working with healthcare facilities and competent authorities in the UAE and internationally, to support efforts to curb the pandemic to protect the community and assure their radiation protection and safety.