October 14, 2014 / 3:01 PM / 5 years ago

UN nuclear agency to help West Africa fight Ebola

VIENNA (Reuters) - The United Nations atomic agency plans to help West African countries fight the Ebola epidemic with nuclear-related technology that can quickly diagnose a disease which has killed more than 4,400 people.

Specialized equipment is expected to be delivered in coming weeks to Sierra Leone and then to Liberia and Guinea, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement on Tuesday.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said it was a “small but effective contribution” to efforts to combat the outbreak.

The epidemic is still spreading in the three countries and the number of cases in West Africa will exceed 9,000 this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in Geneva. The death toll so far in the outbreak, first reported in Guinea in March, has reached 4,447, a senior WHO official said.

The IAEA said a nuclear-derived diagnostic technology known as Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) allows the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) to be detected within a few hours. Other methods, it said, require growing on a cell culture for several days before a diagnosis is determined.

“Early diagnosis of EVD, if combined with appropriate medical care, increases the victims’ chance of survival and helps curtail the spread of the disease by making it possible to isolate and treat the patients earlier,” the IAEA said.

While health authorities in Sierra Leone and other affected countries are already using the technology, their diagnostic capability is limited, the Vienna-based agency said.

The IAEA said it will provide Sierra Leone with an RT-PCR machine and other equipment, and that similar support will “eventually” also be transferred to Liberia and Guinea.

Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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