WHO updates list of medicines to stockpile for nuclear emergencies

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday updated the list of medicines and drugs it recommends to treat exposure to radiological and nuclear emergencies for the first time since 2007.

The updated list, which advises nations on how to stockpile for nuclear and radiological accidents and emergencies, is included in a new WHO report reflecting data and research for related medical treatment that emerged in the last decade.

Maria Neira, the director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment, said it was important for nations and governments to have “ready supplies of lifesaving medicines that will reduce risks and treat injuries from radiation.”

“In radiation emergencies, people may be exposed to radiation at doses ranging from negligible to life-threatening,” Neira said in a statement. “Governments need to make treatments available for those in need — fast.”

The WHO says a typical radiation emergency stockpile should include stable iodine to reduce the exposure of the thyroid to radioactive iodine; chelating agents to reduce radioactive cesium, which can form during nuclear fission, from the body; and cytokines to mitigate damage to the bone marrow.

The list notes several others that can treat infection, diarrhea, vomiting or other causes of bodily injury and harm from radiation exposure. It also details the types of medicine and chemicals, explaining how to store and manage them and how to use drugs for treatment in an emergency.

There are about 440 nuclear reactors across the world, and nine countries, including the U.S., are considered nuclear powers.

Exposure to radiation can damage DNA and cause cardiovascular disease or cancer. Exposure to high levels can lead to acute radiation syndrome, causing vomiting and nausea and potentially resulting in death.

The WHO says several countries still lack proper preparedness measures for radiation emergencies.

Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said in a statement the updated list will be crucial for governmental preparedness.

“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 Ryan.

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