Current Status of Nuclear Medicine Practice in the Middle East



The practice of nuclear medicine (NM) in the Middle East region has experienced an important growth in the last 2 decades and has become crucial in providing healthcare to the region's population of about 395 million people. Even though there are some countries in which the services provided are limited to basic coverage of studies with (99m)Tc and (131)I, most have well-established practices covering most of the available studies in this medical specialty; this is the case in for example, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. According to data provided by the NM professionals in the 17 countries included in the present publication, which was collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2015, the total number of gamma cameras in the region is 910 with an average of 2.3 gamma cameras per million inhabitants. Out of these, 107 cameras, or 12%, are SPECT/CT cameras. There are 194 operating PET/CT scanners, translating to one PET/CT scanner for 2.04 million people on average. The availability of PET/CT scanners in relation to population is the highest in Lebanon and Kuwait, with 2.2 and 1.7 scanners per million people, respectively. There is a total of 628 NM centers in the 17 countries, whereas most NM centers belong to the public healthcare system and in most of the countries are widely spread and not confined exclusively to capital cities. As for the radionuclide therapies, (131)I is used regularly in diagnostic workup as well as in therapeutic applications in all the countries included in this analysis. Only five countries have the capability of assembling (99)Mo-(99m)Tc generators (Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey), and cold kits are produced in several countries. Although there are no capabilities in the region to produce (99)Mo from nuclear reactors, a total of 46 cyclotrons are operated for production of PET radionuclides. The most widely used PET tracer in the region is (18)F-FDG followed by (18)F-NaF; concomitantly, the availability of (68)Ge-(68)Ga generators is increasing and studies involving prostate-specific membrane antigen or DOTA-chelated peptides or both are performed in at least seven countries. Although therapeutic radionuclide agents are mostly imported from outside the region, this does not limit the availability of therapies with (90)Y, (153)Sm, (177)Lu, (131)I, (188)Re, and (89)Sr. Nevertheless, therapies based on alpha particle emitters are still largely not available in the region and are currently only available in Israel and Turkey. Regarding human resources, according to the data provided there are 1157 NM physicians, 1953 technologists, 586 medical physicists, and 173 radiopharmacists or radiochemists in the region. Approximately half of all available human resources are accounted for by Turkey. The region has great potential for expanding the applications of NM; this becomes especially important in view of the high prevalence of non-communicable diseases. Further increasing awareness of the clinical applications of NM in healthcare and strengthening technical and human capacities including the establishment of training programs for all professionals and disciplines in the field are recognized as key components in advancing the practice of NM in the Middle East.