EAC Regional Network of Public Health Laboratories advances in strengthening health emergency preparedness
East African Community Headquarters, Arusha, Tanzania, 17th November, 2023: The 11th Meeting of the Regional Steering Committee of the EAC Regional Network of Public Health Reference Laboratories for Communicable Diseases (EAC RNPHRL-CD) concluded today with regional experts commending the role the project has played in strengthening the region's defense against health threats.
In his remarks, Mr. Jonathan Kirabo, EAC Focal Person, Ministry of EAC Affairs, Republic of Rwanda noted that the project had provided solutions and tangible results in addressing disease outbreaks in the region.
The Regional Steering Committee, that met from 16th to 17th November, 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda reviewed progress made in the implementation of the pending activities under the first phase of the project, whose implementation was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting also reviewed and revised the roadmap for the implementation of the activities of the second phase of the project that was launched on 11th June, 2021 at the EAC headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.
The ERNPHRL-CD project, has been actively strengthening the capacity of Partner States in the region to detect and respond to pathogens of Biosafety Level 3 and 4. The project has successfully completed its Phase I, which focused on high-threat pathogens.
During Phase I, the project procured and deployed nine complete Mobile Laboratories in the EAC region, each fully equipped with portable PCR machines, ELISA machines, Gloveboxes, mobile vehicles and electrical power supply system.
In addition to the critical role the Mobile Laboratories played in the mitigation of -19 in the region, they have also supported Partner States in response to other disease outbreaks. The Laboratories played in critical role in curbing the Ebola outbreak in Uganda in September 2022 and the Marburg outbreak in Tanzania in March 2023.
During deliberations, the Steering Committee noted that one significant accomplishment highlighted was the completion of 27 out of the planned 27 field missions under Phase I, demonstrating the region’s readiness in confirming the causes of disease outbreaks, strengthened diagnostic preparedness, and capacity to undertake scientific research.
The meeting also noted that the project had embarked on various training programs to create, maintain and expand the pool of laboratory experts in the EAC Region, resulting in 405 trained laboratory experts in the region.
Transitioning into the second phase, the project will entail the procurement of six container-based mobile laboratory units and equipment for bacterial culture and mobile field sequencing/bioinformatics for rapid pathogen identification and Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) testing; consumables, test kits and high clearance all-terrain vehicles for transporting the container-based laboratory and training of the EAC Partner States public health laboratory personnel to the required level of competency to operate the container-based mobile laboratories for Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) surveillance among others.
The misuse of antibiotics to treat bacterial infections without evidence-based antimicrobial resistance profiling of the pathogen is common practice. As outlined by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (GLASS) the development of antimicrobial resistance has reached alarming levels in many parts of the world, including the East African Community. Consequently, a lack of field laboratory diagnostic culture capabilities impairs both outbreak control and patient care in the region.
Chairing the meeting, Dr. Marie-Noelle Uwineza, Director of the National Reference Laboratory, Ministry of Health and Fight against AIDS, Republic of Burundi, noted that the meeting presented a valuable opportunity to derive recommendations aimed at enhancing the health outcomes across the EAC region. In particular, she emphasized the significant benefits stemming from the EAC mobile labs project, underscoring its potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery.
“The mobile labs project not only facilitate prompt and accurate diagnostics but also plays a pivotal role in strengthening the region's overall health infrastructure,” said Dr. Uwineza. “Leveraging the advancements in mobile laboratory technology will contribute to more effective disease surveillance, early detection, and ultimately, the improvement of public health in the EAC region,” she added.
The Regional Steering Committee called for continued regional collaboration and the urgent need to integrate the Mobile Laboratories into the existing National Public Health Laboratories and Ministry of Health structures to ensure the sustainability of the Mobile Laboratories network.
The meeting also noted the need to establish a regional framework for sharing test kits and other consumables procured for outbreaks among the Partner States in an effort to ensure efficiency. Further, the members of the Regional Steering Committee urged Partner States to embrace the publication of manuscripts. Noting that this collective effort will significantly boost the visibility of the Partner States' experts, showcasing their diverse skills and knowledge base to a broader audience, as well as an elevation of the project's overall profile.
By disseminating valuable insights and findings through published manuscripts, the Partner States can effectively contribute to the global discourse on pertinent issues regarding communicable diseases, while fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange. This proactive approach to sharing expertise is also anticipated to have a positive ripple effect, enhancing the collective reputation of the Partner States and fortifying the success and impact of the project as a whole.
Notes to Editors:
The EAC Secretariat signed a 3-year financing agreement with the Federal Government of Germany through the German Development Bank (KfW) on 23rd November 2016 to support the establishment and operationalization of the EAC Regional Network of Public Health Reference Laboratories for Communicable Diseases (EAC – RNPHRL). The purpose of the laboratory network is to strengthen the capacity of Partner States to detect and respond to pathogens of biosafety level 3 and 4 nature (Phase I).
On 11 June, 2021 a 3-year second phase of the project set to further strengthen the capacities of the EAC Partner States to respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases, including bacterial diseases and cross-border epidemics was launched.
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Simon Peter Owaka
About the East African Community Secretariat:
The East African Community (EAC) is a regional intergovernmental organisation of seven Partner States, comprising the Republic of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Kenya, the Republic of Rwanda, the Republic of South Sudan, the Republic of Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, with its headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania.
The EAC Secretariat is ISO 9001: 2015 Certified