Topnews, Statements

17. November 2020


Agenda Item 3: Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) - LONG VERSION

Madam Chair

South Africa associates itself with the statement delivered by Her Excellency Ambassador Natividad on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and His Excellency Ambassador Mezghani on behalf of the African Group, and wish to add the following comments in our national capacity.

We are living in unprecedented times and the last few months have re-confirmed that the Agency is well placed to continue to provide support to Member States at national and regional levels by providing nuclear and nuclear devised technology and training to prepare laboratories to detect, trace, diagnose and combat zoonotic diseases. South Africa has long held the view that if national capacities are strengthened through collaboration with the IAEA, other Member States and other International Organisations, we can combat and even eradicate many of these threats to our health and livelihoods.

Madam Chair

South Africa would like to reiterate its appreciation at the quick and effective response  provided by the Agency in assisting Member States fight COVID-19. The Agency’s technical capabilities in this regard is testament to the importance of the IAEA’s work in providing access to all Member States to nuclear energy, science and technology – as required by the NPT.

Like others, South Africa welcomes and fully supports the ZODIAC project, which when implemented will place the IAEA and its Member States in a position to adequately prepare for and combat future zoonotic diseases.  As has been mentioned many times, this will be the largest ever project undertaken by the IAEA and therefore we (Member States and the Secretariat) must proceed with care to not only ensure that the project is sustainable and affordable.  The project should also not negatively effect the excellent work the IAEA does through its Technical Cooperation Programme. It is for these reasons South Africa has approached the project cautiously and posed, perhaps more questions than we ordinarily would do. In this regard, we the Secretariat for the technical briefings held, the bilateral discussions, the non-paper as well as the Information Document and the Project Description for the off-cycle inter-regional Technical Cooperation Project, which is before the TACC today.

Inter-regional projects have the ability to rapidly pull together the necessary technical expertise to ensure that effective and sustainable support is provided to Member States.  This is no different for the project before.

With all the above in mind, Madam Chair, my delegation would like to offer the following comments, which South Africa hopes will be of use as guidance as the implementation of the General Conference Resolution onZODIAC, which is a priority for South Africa going forward:

  • Implementation of the project should be guided by the resolution as adopted at the 64th General Conference which calls for detailed information that will set out the scope, activities, tools and delivery mechanisms to be used. South Africa thanks the recent publication of the work plan and updated concept paper, in this regard;

  • We urge the continuation of  regular engagement with Member States as a whole and with the Board of Governors as the project is rolled out, in this regard the Secretariat may consider the establishment of an Advisory Group that would allow for Member States and the Secretariat to engage at expert level to ensure the effective, transparent development and implementation of ZODIAC, we believe this could supplement engagement with Member States through technical briefings and reports to the BoG in the implementation of Operative Paragraph 11 of the Resolution;

  • Similarly,  the expanded coordination with relevant international organisations should proceed cautiously so as to avoid duplication of mandates, perhaps a formalised coordination mechanism between the relevant organisations would be suitable and it would be appreciated if further information could be provided on the steps the IAEA has already undertaken in this regard, including through sharing of correspondence, where applicable;

  • We would also encourage engagement and coordination with relevant regional organisations, such as the African Union’s Centre for Disease Control, which has performed commendably from the beginning of the outbreak of COVID-19 and that has already vast experience with regard to the One Health Approach. The Centre also supports AU Member States in surveillance and diagnostic of pathogens. The AU CDC is further also co-chair of the AU Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance and Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources, which seeks to enhance colloboration and sharing research findings, amongst others; and

  • South Africa believes, like other Member States, that further engagement is required regarding the implementation of Pillars 2 to 5 of ZODIAC, especially because some of the activities foreseen is not mainstream for the IAEA. We believe a step-by-step approach is essential to ensure that Member States and the Secretariat move together as this project unfolds.

 On Pillar 1 specifically, we request that the Secretariat:

i) Provide further detail on the plan to ensure sustainability for laboratory support,

ii) Please provide further information on how coordination with the OIE’s existing laboratory sustainability programme will be ensured;

iii) It is essential that in the implementation of ZODIAC, the best possible use of existing structures and tools in the delivery of the project is used including VETLABS and the OIE’s well-developed network of existing international reference laboratory and collaborating centres; and

iv) Guarantee that the other already approved footnote/a projects receive equal attention when the IAEA seeks extra-budgetary funding and that ZODIAC does not overshadow the other work the IAEA does through its Technical Cooperation Programme as well as through Nuclear Applications. In this regard it should be remembered that the TC Programme, including its footnote/a projects are responses to requests and needs of Member States and should be prioritised.

My delegation is pleased to note that the non-paper highlights that the existing delivery mechanisms, such as VETLABS will be used in the implementation of ZODIAC as they provide a unique and stable delivery platform for ZODIAC. 

We have noted that in addition to support the distribution of equipment and to provide training and diagnostic support, the VETLAB Network, managed bu the Joint FAO/IAEA Division, continued to assist partner veterinary laboratories in the execution of their normal activities that are essential to deliver food safety and security, amongst others. In this regard, support was given to Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Senegal in dealing with the lethal virus disease called the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease. The Network assisted the partners by providing PCR protocols and reagents; and supported the submission of samples for the virus's genetic characterisation. In Asia, another region which boasts a large number of VETLAB Network laboratories, they were supported with the emergence of Lumpy Skin Disease, a viral disease affecting cattle and from September 2020, additional Asian countries requested assistance and support in the form of specific PCR reagents, positive controls, and validated S.O.Ps.

These are just two examples of the support given to Member States through an existing delivery mechanism and we encourage the Secretariat to VETLABS and other delivery mechanism and their structures and online platforms effectively.

In conclusion, we are pleased that ZODIAC will aim to strengthen and expand the Agency’s collaboration and partnership with Member States throughout the world in combating zoonotic diseases and that it will collaborate with other relevant international and regional organisations in this regard. We also look forward to receiving further information and to hold discussions as we move beyond the equipping of laboratories, to the enhanced capacity building of laboratory personnel in Member States, the coordination of collaborative research projects the collection and sharing of data etc. Finally, South Africa reiterates its support of the step by step implementation and the recommendation of Pillar 1 to the Board of Governors for approval.

Madam Chair,

With these remarks, the South Africa takes note of GOV/2020/37 (and its associated recommendations).

I thank you.

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