Nine mobile laboratories initially planned to prevent all kinds of epidemics have been deployed in East African countries in partnership with Berlin. The German development bank KFW is financing the project, which has been on track since 2018.
The Secretary General of the East African Commission, Liberat Mfumukeko, gave the details: “A total of nine mobile laboratories are being deployed in the partner states as follows: Republic of Burundi -1, Republic of Rwanda -1, Republic of South Sudan -1, Republic of Kenya -2, Republic of Uganda -2 and United Republic of Tanzania -2,” he reported in the media.
Find out how Germany is trying to help East African countries by investing in nine mobile laboratories and read the most important financial headlines with the Born2Invest mobile app.
KfW is also sending 18 PCR machines in Africa
In concrete terms, these mobile laboratories consist of a vehicle equipped with all the necessary equipment to carry out rapid detection tests for several infections such as Ebola. However, from now on, they will also “be used to diagnose COVID-19,” KFW said.
It should also be pointed out that the most reliable tests for the new coronavirus require a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machine. The KfW project is supplying 18 PCR machines to mobile laboratories in East Africa.
These machines are “open systems,” explained Dr Muna Affara, one of the two coordinators of the German project. This means they can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including COVID-19 and other epidemics. “A PCR machine is a bit like an oven, you can cook several different dishes in the same place,” the doctor explained.
New methods for early detection
“This project, which aims to set up mobile laboratories to detect infectious diseases in the region, started in 2018, but comes at the right time to help fight the new coronavirus,” said Joachim Nagel, a member of the German Public Bank’s board of directors.
As proof, the ECA Secretary General also distributed personal protective equipment including gloves, gowns, masks and glasses. The aim is to be able to react as soon as an infection occurs. Suspect cases in remote areas were particularly problematic, as it took weeks to confirm them. Until now, blood samples from the region had to be taken from a reference laboratory in the capital or flown to more qualified laboratories elsewhere. Now, experts can provide reliable diagnoses within 24 hours.
Germany also invested in the training of specialists
Germany has invested €27 million in this program via KfW, in partnership with the East African Community. Germany has also trained laboratory experts from six countries, including Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, at the Bernhard-Nocht Institute for Tropical Diseases in Hamburg. “We shared the experience of three of our institute’s departments, namely virology, infection epidemiology and diagnostic development. These three areas are extremely important for the development of mobile laboratories,” explained Professor Jürgen May, Head of the Department of Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases at the BNITM.
During the four weeks the African experts spent in Hamburg, they learned how to quickly assemble a mobile laboratory stored in 15 boxes, then dismantle and recondition it and, if necessary, operate it with the help of electrical generators. These African specialists also received further training through a simulation exercise with WHO support in Arusha, Tanzania.
This mobile laboratory facility will soon be extended to three more countries.
Africa, the last frontier
Africa has so far been relatively little affected by the new coronavirus pandemic, with only 25,461 cases, according to a report by AFP based on official sources. However, the pandemic is still in its early stages on the continent, with the WHO warning of “worrying upward trends.”
Last Thursday, April 23rd, German Development Minister Gerd Mueller called on Berlin to invest up to $3.26 billion (€3 billion) more to help the poorest countries fight the pandemic. Otherwise, “uncontrollable movements of refugees” could be caused by the disease, he told the German media group Funke.
Joachim Nagel replied that “the poorest countries need support, especially now. Otherwise all the development progress made in recent years will be lost. It is therefore the right decision for Germany and Europe to set up comprehensive aid programs. Despite all the uncertainties and challenges currently facing Germany, we must not turn our backs to the world. It was appropriate and reasonable to close the borders to contain the virus. But we cannot afford to erect borders in our minds and blind ourselves to other countries and continents.”
Berlin wants to do more
Berlin announced further measures, noting that there is a need for training, test kits, PCR machines – all currently in short supply. “The training of laboratory experts in test preparation, performance and interpretation is one of the most important ways in which German development cooperation can currently help African countries respond to the pandemic,” said Dr Olivier Manigart, senior team leader of the Proalab project in the ECOWAS region.
Furthermore, in Ghana, the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) – a joint venture between the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, the Ghanaian Ministry of Health and the German Bernhard-Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg – was able to start testing the new coronavirus as soon as the first cases were reported in the country.
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First published in LePoint, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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