Sustainable Laboratories for High-Consequence Pathogens in Africa

This project aims to engage with the opportunities, requirements, and practical challenges involved in working with hazardous biological material in low-resource settings to improve the sustainability of laboratories and address the potential biosafety and biosecurity capability gap.

The concept of low-resource biosafety and biosecurity (LRBS) was first proposed as a counterpoint to the approach to biosafety and biosecurity pursued by international donors that often proposes the construction of high-tech, high-cost containment facilities in low-resource settings.

This approach is not necessarily appropriate, achievable or sustainable in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In some countries, the microorganisms of concern are endemic or periodically re-emerging. In addition, it is inconceivable that all LMICs would be provided with high-cost (i.e. multi-million dollar) high-tech containment facilities by international donor programmes, or indeed could maintain such facilities were they to be provided.

This situation leaves a potential international biosafety/biosecurity capability gap, with many countries having a legitimate need to work with high-consequence pathogens – for example in the context of diagnosis, storage or transport – but with no realistic prospect of reaching the biosafety/biosecurity standards adopted by more affluent countries.

The UK International Biosafety Programme (UKIBSP) initiated the first phases of LRBS activity in mid-2012. This was implemented by the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security. These initial phases focused on gaining consensus for the LRBS concept among key high, middle and low-income countries, the World Health Organization (WHO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and on reassuring the international donor community that the concept is not intended to undermine or circumvent existing standards, or indeed to provide a second-rate system for developing countries.

It is likely that the main donor focus for future activities will be on central/national laboratory facilities as described under the International Health Regulations, with an initial regional starting point of West Africa. The current phase of the initiative will consist of:

  • Selection, in collaboration with the WHO, the OIE, FAO and the West African Health Organization, of a small number of existing West African laboratory facilities to collaborate in the field phase. These facilities would:

- Highlight a range of technical challenges faced by operating in low-resource settings.
- Serve as a focus for specific problem-solving activities.
- Host the majority of field phase activities (e.g. stakeholder workshops) with the objective of reinforcing the intention to focus on practical challenges.

  • The field phase of the initiative might include (but would not be restricted to) consideration of the following technical challenges associated with operating biosafety/biosecurity systems in low-resource settings:

- Power supplies.
- Water supplies.
- Laboratory air handling systems.
- Energy efficiency.
- Natural ventilation/cooling/air flows.
- Containment engineering (e.g. biosafety cabinets etc).
- Routine and emergency maintenance.
- Disposal of contaminated waste (e.g. autoclaving, incineration).
- Laboratory security systems.
- Cold-chain maintenance.
- Reagent supply.
- Affordability

  • Engagement with the engineering sector: there would be significant benefit in involving the engineering sector in this problem-solving phase of the ‘Sustainable Laboratories’ initiative.

The ‘Sustainable Laboratories for High-Consequence Pathogens’ initiative has been jointly developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (on behalf of the MoD-funded UKIBSP), Public Health England, the Canadian Global Partnership Programme and the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security.

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