WHO updates list of critical medicines for radiological and nuclear emergencies

WHO updates list of critical medicines for radiological and nuclear emergencies
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The World Health Organization (WHO) today updated its list of medicines that should be stored for radiological and nuclear emergencies, along with policy recommendations for their proper management. These reserves include drugs that prevent or reduce radiation exposure, or treat injuries after exposure has occurred.

“In radiation emergencies, people can be exposed to radiation doses ranging from negligible to life-threatening. Governments must make treatments available to those who need them, fast,” said Dr. Maria Neira, acting Assistant Director-General of WHO’s Division for Healthier Populations. “It is essential that governments are prepared to protect the health of populations and respond immediately to emergencies. This includes having ready supplies of life-saving drugs that will reduce risks and treat radiation injuries.”

Key points

  • This publication supersedes 2007 WHO report on the development of national reserves for radiological emergencies. Includes up-to-date information on the reservation form based on advances in radiological emergency medicine in the last decade.
  • Provides policy advice for the procurement of drugs that can prevent or reduce the absorption of radionuclides or increase the elimination of radionuclides from the human body.
  • It examines the main elements necessary to develop, maintain and manage the national reserves of specific medical supplies that will be necessary for radiological and nuclear emergencies.
  • He report discusses the role of national health authorities in stock development, as well as the role of WHO. As the leading international public health organization with the authority and responsibility to assist in health emergencies, WHO provides advice and guidance to countries on public health preparedness and response to radiological emergencies, including the development of reserves. In health emergencies, WHO can help purchase or share medical supplies between countries.
  • This report includes a brief review of selected emerging technologies and drug formulations, including the potential reuse of previously approved products for other indications.
  • Finally, the publication provides examples of practices for establishing and managing national reserves in selected countries, namely Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the US.

“This updated list of critical drugs it will be a vital preparedness and preparedness tool for our partners to identify, procure, store and deliver effective countermeasures in a timely manner to those at risk or exposed in these events,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the Health Emergencies Program of the WHO.

Typically, a national all-hazards health emergency stockpile would include generic supplies and materials used for any type of emergency, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), trauma kits, fluids, antibiotics, and pain relievers. This publication includes only specific drugs that are currently known and licensed to prevent or treat human overexposure to radiation.

Radiological and nuclear emergencies can result in exposure to radiation doses high enough to cause serious health consequences or even death. Therefore, it is extremely important that governments respond quickly to such threats. Many countries, however, still lack the essential elements of radiological emergency preparedness, according to annual reports to the WHO Secretariat.

Possible scenarios considered in the publication include radiological or nuclear emergencies at nuclear power plants, medical or research facilities, or accidents during the transport of radioactive materials, as well as intentional uses of radioactive materials with malicious intent.

Components of a pharmaceutical reserve for radiological emergencies

This publication it focuses on pharmaceuticals for the treatment of radiation exposure and addresses the governance and management of such stocks. A typical radiological emergency stockpile will include the following medications:

  • stable iodine, given to prevent or reduce exposure of the thyroid to radioactive iodine;
  • Sand decorporation chelating agents (Prussian blue, applied to remove radioactive cesium from the body and calcium-/zinc-DTPA used to treat internal contamination with transuranium radionuclides);
  • Cytokines used to mitigate damage to the bone marrow, in case of acute radiation syndrome (ARS); Y
  • Other medicines used to treat vomiting, diarrhea and infections.

Emerging treatments and countermeasures also discussed in the report provide insight into future medical countermeasures that could be used to treat patients overexposed to radiation. In particular, studies that identify new cellular and molecular pathways and means of drug delivery can be leveraged for new treatments and new products for use during a radiation emergency.

Emergency preparedness, response and recovery saves lives

Coordination of local, national and international responses is essential for a harmonized response to radiological emergencies. As the agency responsible for guiding healthcare interventions globally, WHO provides advice and ensures access to medicines and health services for countries developing national capacity for radiation emergency preparedness and response.

More information

WHO Global Expert Network, REMPAN

WHO global network of experts, REMPAN (Network for Medical Assistance and Preparedness for Radiological Emergencies), is an important asset of the Organization in implementing its work of providing technical guidance and tools for response, carrying out activities to build capacity through education and training, and promoting international cooperation and information exchange between network members and the professional community in the field of radiological emergency medicine.

WHO is a member of ICARNE, the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies, which provides the coordination mechanism among 20 international organizations with relevant mandates. IACRNE members develop, maintain and co-sponsor the International Organizations Joint Radiation Emergency Management Plan (Plan J 2017). The JPlan outlines a common understanding of the roles of each organization in making preparedness arrangements and during response and recovery.

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