The World Health Organization (WHO) today updated its list of medicines that should be stockpiled for radiological and nuclear emergencies, along with policy advice for their appropriate management. These stockpiles include medicines that either prevent or reduce exposure to radiation, or treat injuries once exposure has occurred.
“In radiation emergencies, people may be exposed to radiation at doses ranging from negligible to life-threatening. Governments need to make treatments available for those in need – fast,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Acting Assistant Director-General a.i, Healthier Populations Division. “It is essential that governments are prepared to protect the health of populations and respond immediately to emergencies. This includes having ready supplies of lifesaving medicines that will reduce risks and treat injuries from radiation.”
“This updated critical medicines list will be a vital preparedness and readiness tool for our partners to identify, procure, stockpile and deliver effective countermeasures in a timely fashion to those at risk or exposed in these events,” said Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.
Typically, a national stockpile for all-hazards health emergencies would include generic supplies and materials used for any type of emergencies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), trauma kits, fluids, antibiotics and painkillers. This publication includes only specific drugs which are known and licensed today to prevent or treat human over-exposure to radiation.
Radiological and nuclear emergencies may result in exposure to radiation doses high enough to lead to severe health consequences or even death. It is therefore extremely important that governments respond rapidly to such threats. Many countries, however, still lack the essential elements of preparedness for radiation emergencies, according to annual reporting to the WHO Secretariat.
Potential scenarios considered in the publication include radiological or nuclear emergencies at nuclear power plants, medical or research facilities, or accidents during transport of radioactive materials, as well as intentional uses of radioactive materials with malicious intent.
This publication focuses on pharmaceuticals for treating radiation exposure and addresses the governance and management of such a stockpile. A typical radiation emergency stockpile will include the following medicines:
Emerging treatments and countermeasures also discussed in the report give insight to the future medical countermeasures that could be used for managing patients overexposed to radiation. In particular, studies identifying new cellular and molecular pathways and means of administrating drugs may be exploited for novel treatments and new products for use during a radiation emergency.
Coordination of local, national and international responses is essential for a harmonized response to radiation emergencies. As the agency responsible for guiding healthcare interventions globally, WHO provides advice and ensures access to medicines and health services for countries that are developing national capacity for preparedness and response to radiation emergencies.
WHO’s global expert network, REMPAN (Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network), is an important asset of the Organization for implementing its work on providing technical guidance and tools for response, delivering activities for building capacity through education and training, and on promoting international cooperation and information-sharing between the members of the network and the professional community in the field of radiation emergency medicine.
WHO is a member of ICARNE, the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiological and Nuclear Emergencies, which provides the coordination mechanism between 20 international organizations with relevant mandates. Members of IACRNE develop, maintain and co-sponsor the Joint Radiation Emergency Management Plan of the International Organizations (JPlan 2017). The JPlan describes a common understanding of each organization’s roles in making preparedness arrangements and during a response and recovery.
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WHO Media inquiries
National stockpiles for radiological and nuclear emergencies: policy advice
Iodine thyroid blocking – Guidelines for use in planning and responding to radiological and nuclear emergencies (2017)
TMT Handbook: triage, monitoring, and treatment of persons overexposed to ionizing radiation (2009, co-sponsored by WHO)
Development of stockpiles for radiation emergencies: report of the Radio-Nuclear working group, February 2007, [2Mb]
Radiation and Health (includes emergency related info)
Use of potassium iodine for thyroid protection during nuclear or radiological emergencies
Radioactivity in food after a nuclear emergency
Radiation and Health Unit
Strengthening global preparedness to radiation emergencies