Handbook offers guidance to doctors on radiation

29 June 2016

A new handbook has been compiled with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to better prepare medical staff to communicate with the public about possible health effects of radiation during and after a nuclear or radiological emergency.

The handbook was launched in Singapore last week at the 3rd Conference on Science, Technology and Society Perspectives on Nuclear Science, Radiation and Human Health: the View from Asia. The conference - organized jointly by the IAEA and the University of Singapore - marked the end of a series of IAEA projects to improve the ability of medical professionals, physicists and other specialists in Asia and elsewhere to communicate about radiation-related health risks in a nuclear or radiological emergency. The initiative is based on the need for clear and science-based communication.

"The Fukushima accident taught us that what was required in medical response to a nuclear accident extends beyond ordinary medical expertise."

Koichi Tanigawa,
Fukushima Medical University

Atsushi Kumagai, associate professor at the Education Centre for Disaster Medicine at Fukushima Medical University said, "Radiation specialists thought they would be able to persuade people" about the level and risk of radiation following the 2011 Fukushima accident. "Instead, people went with their own hunch."

"The Fukushima accident taught us that what was required in medical response to a nuclear accident extends beyond ordinary medical expertise," said Koichi Tanigawa, vice president of Fukushima Medical University, who was involved in preparing the handbook.

"Back in 2011, the biggest challenges were scarcity of information on radiation among the public, and lack of coordination among responding organizations," he said. "A science technology society project may address the roles of individuals responding to these difficult situations."

Tanigawa added, "Health care professionals need to learn how to communicate with residents who have different perceptions about radiation, provide scientific information to the public as risk communicators, and facilitate their understanding of health risks, so that the residents can adapt their lives accordingly."

The IAEA said the new handbook provides an overview of general radiation history and circumstances of release of radiological material in Japan. It addresses risk perception and advises on how best to deal with psychosomatic symptoms. Topics on preparing for and coping with disasters and risk communication are also included, along with legal and ethical considerations.

May Abdel-Wahab, director of the IAEA's human health division, said: "If we can assist medical personnel in communicating effectively with the affected population, the health outcomes will improve as well. A tool like this handbook gives medical staff information to help people have better control over their lives and make appropriate informed decisions."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News