The World Health Organization has established a network of collaborating centres for practical assistance and advice to countries in the case of overexposure to radiation and for radiation related public health advice. ARPANSA and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute form a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Radiation Protection.

As the lead United Nations agency for health issues the World Health Organization has accepted the responsibility for shaping, coordinating and putting into operation health-related emergency assistance programs at the global level. WHO has established the Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN) for the promotion of radiation emergency medical preparedness and for practical assistance and advice to countries in the case of overexposure from any source of radiation.

At present REMPAN consists of 13 WHO Collaborating Centres located in specialised radiological institutions in Armenia, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Ukraine and USA. There are also 27 Liaison Institutions in China, Finland and India.

REMPAN Objectives and Main Activities

The primary objectives of REMPAN are:

  • to promote the preparedness for radiation accidents among WHO Member States
  • to provide advice and assistance in the case of a radiation accident and radiological emergency
  • to assist in follow-up studies and rehabilitation.

REMPAN in Australia

The functions and titles of the Collaborating Centres vary slightly from one country to another. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute have formed a WHO Collaborating Centre for Radiation Protection since 1985. ARPANSA is responsible for protecting the health and safety of Australian from the harmful effects of radiation, both ionising and non-ionising. The Agency seeks to promote uniformity of radiation protection and nuclear safety practices within Australia and to provide expert advice to Government and to the community on radiation matters.

Its functions with respect to radiation exposures and contamination arising from accidents include:

  • helping Member States in elaborating their plans for medical preparedness
  • promoting training of personnel in developing countries in medical preparedness and first aid
  • defining optimal methods for diagnosis or treatment of over-exposure
  • providing medical assistance to exposed persons both on site and in specialised clinics, subject to bilateral agreement between Australia and the country(s) concerned.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute

Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute is Australia's foremost cancer treatment centre and is the largest radiation oncology facility in the southern hemisphere. It provides the medical input to the Australian REMPAN activities. Historically Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute was established as a free standing radiation oncology institute and has developed associated cancer treatment services since then. Hence the hospital does not have accident and emergency services or general medical and surgical facilities on site but collaborates with the other general hospitals in Melbourne for these services. However a comprehensive range of radiation oncology services, haematology and medical oncology facilities are available supported by a large health physics staff and research facilities.

All sophisticated medical treatments are available in each state, at least within each capital city. Whilst all these facilities are not available in any one hospital they can be accessed as needed for particular patients medical requirements. Expert advice on radiation medicine is available in each state but it is most probable that the first line medical response in a radiation accident in Australia would be the local acute general hospital. This is appropriate as these hospitals manage acute trauma routinely. In the event of accidents involving radiation, these hospitals can access the physics and radiation medicine advice they need by contacting the local state radiation centre or via ARPANSA.

Australian Clinical Guidelines for Radiological Emergencies

The purpose of the Australian Clinical Guidelines for Radiological Emergencies is to assist physicians, particularly those in accident and emergency departments of hospitals, nurses and medical and health physicists in the medical management of individuals who have been involved in radiation accidents. Medical administrators should also find it helpful in planning for action to be taken within a hospital when such individuals are admitted to the hospital.

For medical personnel it will enable them to more effectively manage people who are involved in radiation accident/emergency situations and to take into account the risks arising from different radiation sources. It will also give a better appreciation of the essential elements of a hospital's response plans for radiation emergencies and the adoption of disaster plans for multiple casualties.

For health physicists it will enable them to become aware of the different diagnostic and treatment modalities and gave them a better appreciation of pre-hospital and hospital emergency plans. In turn, they should be able to organise a more appropriate health physics response.

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