As part of its response to the nuclear power plant crisis in Japan in March, World Health Organization (WHO) alerted its global network of health experts specialized in nuclear-related disasters. This network, the Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN), was established by WHO in 1987. The network includes more than 40 specialized institutions worldwide with expertise in radiation emergency medicine, public health interventions, and long-term follow-up with victims.

There are two ways to join WHO/REMPAN: as a WHO Collaborating Center or as a REMPAN Liaison Institution. The Collaborating Centers are institutions such as research institutes, parts of universities, or academies that are designated by the Director-General to carry out activities in support of WHO programs. Currently there are over 900 WHO Collaborating Centers in 99 Member States.

The REMPAN Liaison Institutions are national public health institutions that provide support and services to WHO in the field of public health emergencies caused by radiation. The institutions provide assistance and advice in cases of over-exposure to any radiation source, provide technical assistance, assist with public health actions, conduct bio-dosimetry, and carry out surveillance, radiation epidemiology, and research. To promote medical and public health preparedness in radiological emergencies, REMPAN members serve as focal points, assist in planning medical management of radiological emergencies, provide training courses and seminars as well as on-site assistance.

WHO/REMPAN Collaborating Centers disseminate material to liaison institutes and act as training sites, particularly for developing countries; they compile and periodically update information about the capabilities of the countries involved in the network; and they organize national and regional exercises and participate in international exercises.

Assistance provided by WHO Collaborating Centers and REMPAN Liaison Institutions include:

  • Specialists: specialized personnel in radiation medicine, health physics, radiology, hematology, and other appropriate specialties, as well as skilled nurses and technicians.
  • Equipment: most of the centers are well equipped to provide special medical assistance to persons overexposed to radiation.
  • Medical services: assistance is given for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and medical monitoring of people affected.
  • Scientific services: expertise can be provided to assess radiation doses to exposed persons (most REMPAN institutions have bio-dosimetry laboratories).
  • Transportation: advice can be given on transportation for people affected.
  • Specialized teams: WHO can organize multinational teams to provide on-site medical assistance.

The nuclear emergency in Japan raises many questions about the impact of radioactive emissions, including food safety, safety of travelers, and the capacity of all countries to cope with similar situations.

The WHO works closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency in preparedness and response to nuclear accidents and radiological emergencies, primarily to facilitate and coordinate medical assistance to victims.
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