Radiation and health training stepped up
By ELISABETH TACEY
HONG KONG is bolstering its expertise in radiation protection as southern China builds more nuclear power plants and as hospitals increase use of advanced radioactive treatment techniques.
Government demands for more trained people had prompted Hong Kong University to set up the territory's first degree course in radiation and health, radioisotope unit lecturer Dr John Leung Kon-chong said yesterday.
There was a gap in knowledge of how to operate advanced medical equipment, such as magnetic-resonance imagers and gamma-ray machines, the use of which was increasing in Hong Kong's hospitals, he said.
'We had some requests from the Government to provide some graduates in this field,' he said.
University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Biscoe said: 'People are worried about Daya Bay, and there's a whole area of nuclear medicine that involves the use of radioactive materials. There's a big demand in Southeast Asia.' The 20 places available for the first, three-year course in radiation and health physics, to begin in September, were already oversubscribed, Dr Leung said.
Hospitals have complained of an acute shortage of people trained to use radiation equipment as its use has mushroomed, leading to long waiting lists for radiotherapy treatment.
The Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital is the latest hospital to use the techniques. It opened a nuclear medicine division on Tuesday.
Health physicists would typically work with the doctors on the best use of the machines and the optimum doses for patients, Dr Leung said.
Health physics dealt with protection against the harmful effects of radiation, both for patients and technicians using the machines and for populations in case of power station accidents.
'We see there will be a need in the near future for people trained in radiation protection to contribute their knowledge to the Chinese or Hong Kong governments,' Dr Leung said.
Professor Biscoe said: 'The technology is very advanced and it needs technically trained people to run the machinery.' Cancer, bone and heart disease can be diagnosed using radiation technology. Examples of equipment included infra-red scanners for brain disease; the gamma knife and gamma camera to make surgical cuts and look at tumours and bone; and magnetic-resonance imaging which used water molecules throughout the body to give 'extraordinary resolution - much better than X-ray', Professor Biscoe said.
The students would get a grounding in physics while learning about radioactive materials, how much exposure would damage body tissue and how radioactivity moved through the environment.
The Royal Observatory has also complained it is difficult to get staff trained in radiation monitoring as it continues building its network of stations keeping a lookout for fallout from Daya Bay.