18. September 2013

Draft Statement to be delivered by Minister Martins, South African Minister of Energy at the side event for the Renovation of the Nuclear Application Laboratories in Seibersdorf


Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to have been invited to participate in this side event for the renovation of the Nuclear Application Laboratories in Seibersdorf, known as ReNuAL. At the outset, I would like to congratulate the Agency and express my appreciation to the staff of the nuclear application laboratories fortheir sustained efforts in supporting Member States to meet the technical and scientific requirements in fields as diverse as agriculture and radiation medicine.

In addition, these are the only laboratories that adapt nuclear technologies that are developed in industrialized nations for field use in developing countries. These nuclear related and complementary technologies contribute significantly to food security and safety; human and animal health; water management and environmental protection; and help to improve the living standards of people around the world. Particularly in Africa, we have benefited most from these technologies contributing to animal disease control, animal production and health.

Distinguished Delegates,

Transboundary animal diseases constitute one of the greatest constraints to socio-economic development in Africa. These diseases affect the health of livestock and often humans, severely limiting sustainable rural development, which is a priority for Africa. The Tsetse flies, and the disease they cause, destroy livestock. As a result small farmers are unable to engage in productive farming,and this also affects their capacity to take their goods to the market. Other diseases such as tick borne fever, Avian Infuenza and Newcastle disease could have similar devastating consequences if not detected and treated at an early stage.

South Africa’s involvement with the Animal Production and Health Laboratory dates back to its beginning in the mid-nineties when these laboratories started developing, testing, and validating various nuclear testsfor the determination of reproductive hormones, which allowed veterinarians, farmers and livestock professionals to improve the quality of artificial insemination services and hence the fertility in ruminant livestock. As a result the quality and quantity of meat have increased. Soon after that, the disease diagnosis component was incorporated as one of the major activities of the Animal Laboratory where several diseases caused by parasites, bacteria and viruses were taken on board and suitable diagnostic techniques were developed or adapted, almost all based on the nuclear and nuclear related test platform known as ELISA.

The dissemination of the ELISA technology significantly shifted the focus from detection of disease from single animals to herds, which was facilitated by the development of ready-to-use reagents and easier interpretation of results.

The ELISA tests were distributed in the format of a kit, which enabled our veterinarians, for the very first time, to run these, the first standardised tests, in their local laboratories instead of sending them to reference laboratories to be tested. Diseases like rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), Rift Valley fever, Newcastle disease, Trypanosomosis, and tick-borne diseases were some of the targeted diseases that were – and many still are – causing serious threats to livestock in the whole of the Sub-Saharan African region.

Distinguished Delegates,

Many of you, I am sure, were present at the IAEA in 2011 when the Declaration of Global Freedom from Rinderpest was celebrated – a momentous celebration and relief in knowing that Rinderpest, also known as cattle plague, was eradicated. Rinderpest was the most dreaded of all animal diseases, having caused substantial loss of livestock and wildlife in three continents and many famines over the past three centuries. The instrumental role of the IAEA laboratories in Seibersdorf was highlighted in this eradication campaign, through the introduction and expansion of diagnostic capabilities in developing countries. The eradication of Rinderpest will translate into savings in terms of meat purchases/imports and loss of livestock of up to 1 billion US$ per year.

ELISA and related serological techniques have been partly surpassed by molecular techniques in livestock research and disease diagnosis, which means that the composition of the gene is now included in the anti-body profile, making diagnosis more targeted and specific.

Again the Agency Laboratories, in their continuous endeavour for the betterment of animal health in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions, have taken the lead on these techniques, transforming and re-adapting, to the extent possible, its facilities at Seibersdorf to provide new diagnostic tools to national veterinary diagnostic laboratories. The current major research topics are all of crucial importance to both developed and developing countries worldwide.

Another novel activity conducted at the Agency’s Laboratory, and of specific interest to Africa, is the validation of a prototype mobile field laboratory for the early and rapid diagnosis of a broad range of infectious animal diseases, which will have a profound impact on the early detection and response to diseases in African countries.

Distinguished Delegates,

The continuous fight against animal diseases, especially emerging and re-emerging transboundary animal diseases and those that have the potential to infect humans, has been a strong pillar for South Africa’s cooperation with the Seibersdorf Laboratories. Based on our longstanding collaboration with the IAEA laboratories and the many achievements of these Laboratories, the South African Government, through its African Renaissance and International Co-operation Fund,in collaboration with the USA and Japan, pledged nearly three million Euros over a period of four years to promote a collaborative laboratory network in Africa. This laboratory network will support Sub-Saharan African countries affected by transboundary animal diseases, such as Foot-and-Mouth disease, Avian Influenza, Rift Valley Fever and others, which continue to cause high morbidity and mortality in livestock and threaten production in this sector.

Most of the activities under this project will be related to capacity building and to the provision of adequate equipment and reagents to enable implementation of different diagnostic tests. The main support will be provided to three major laboratories in Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Botswana. These laboratories are already performing diagnostics and developing human resource capacity in the region, thus contributing to an early warning system and prevention of diseases such as African Swine Fever (ASF). It is alreadybeing acknowledged by experts in the veterinary field as a viable network and there is a growing demand in the region for laboratories to join the network.

Distinguished Delegates,

I paid a visit to the Nuclear Applications Laboratories at Seibersdorf earlier this week and I was amazed and concerned to see the conditions under which this important work is being conducted. Some of the operations are still conducted in containers while structures have old peelings and make-shift maintenance solutions on them. Whilst the few new equipments were visible, the majority of the equipments were old and inefficient against the demands and pressure the laboratories have to perform. It was ironic that a few metres away the new safeguards laboratories showed a breath of fresh air of progress made thus far on the renewal programme. Lest, the Agency’s priorities may be regarded as misplaced, urgent funding and support by Member States for themodernization of the laboratories is required.

At last year’s General Conference, South Africa drafted a resolution for the modernization of the Nuclear Applications (NA) laboratories in Seibersdorf. The resolution was adopted unanimously which recognises that the NA laboratories at Seibersdorf must in future continue to respond effectively and proactively to the many and continuously evolving needs and demands of IAEA’s Member States through its focus on research and development, capacity building and the provision of technical services. It also recognises and supports the urgent need for the modernization of these laboratories, especially in current times where science is developing at an incredible pace and working standards must adapt to internationally accepted norms.

Distinguished Delegates,

Whilst much has been accomplished by the Agency and its laboratories in the past five decades, much more work still needs to be done. Looking to the future, there are enormous challenges facing us as a global community, such as climate change, the increasing threat from transboundary pests, diseases, and water scarcity, to name a few, added to which will be the need to feed an estimated additional 3.3 billion people by 2050.

As the international community is now shaping the post-2015 development agenda, the need for this dedicated adaptive Research and Development capacity on a global scale in the IAEA is of critical importance,if we are to match the near-exponential increase in development of new and ‘better’ technologies with an adaptation of these technologies to fit the special needs of developing countries.

I am confident that, through the ReNuAL project, the IAEA Nuclear Application Laboratories in Seibersdorf will continue to play a leading role in this regard and sustain its unique niche in the application of nuclear and radiation technologies for development. The Agency can rely on South Africa’s support and we look forward to working with other Member States for the renewal of these laboratories.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for the courtesy of listening to me.

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