West African nations move to curb epidemic spread through laboratories




The first technical and steering committee meetings of the Strengthening Epidemiological Surveillance and Laboratory System in West Africa (PROALAB), came to a close at the weekend in Lagos, Nigeria, with a resolution by Member-states to strengthen their Laboratory capacities for better preparedness against epidemic spread in the sub-region.

According to the participants, it was also important for member-states to stop the practice of waiting for epidemics to happen, but to continually carrying out surveillance through the laboratories.

They further called for strengthening of the laboratories in terms of capacity, the work force and quality assurance.

The participants, who included the Director-General of the West African Health Organization (WAHO), Professor Stanley Okolo, believed that the initiative would not only help identify all Infectious diseases, but also identify the nature of viruses involved.

The project, sponsored by the German Development Bank for the West African sub-region, is going on in four west African countries, namely Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Out of the eleven Laboratories to be supported in the region, five were in Nigeria.

Commenting on the safety concerns and anxiety regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, the WAHO DG, Professor Okolo and the World Health Organization (WHO) senior team leader from Burkina Faso, Dr Olivier Manigart, urged West African countries to disregard unfounded claims from different quarters, but to take advantage of scientific improvement that made the vaccine production possible within a short time.

The objectives of the two-day meetings, which held from 20th-21st May 2021 at the Pearlworth Hotel & Suites, Ikeja, Lagos, were to review and assess the level of implementation of the recommendations of the project kickoff meeting held in Ouagadougou on May 13 and 14, 2019; Assess the level of implementation of the 2019 and 2020 PTBAs and the project’s Procurement Plans (PPM) and; Analyze the activities carried out thanks to the COVID-19 PROALAB Emergency Fund.

Other objectives were to analyze the activities conducted for training around the four major PROALAB themes; Share the major difficulties and bottlenecks encountered in the implementation of the project and propose solutions and; Make proposals for recommendations to be submitted to WAHO General Management and KfW for approval for the 2nd phase of the project.

Among the outcomes expected from this meetings were (i) The level of implementation of the recommendations of the project kick-off meeting held in Ouagadougou on May 13-14, 2019 is reviewed and assessed; (ii) The level of implementation of the 2019 and 2020 PTBAs and the related Procurement Plans (PPM) is assessed; (iii) The activities carried out through the COVID-19 PROALAB Emergency Fund are critiqued and redefined; (iv) Activities conducted for training around the four major PROALAB themes are critiqued and redefined and; (v) Major difficulties and bottlenecks encountered in the implementation of the project are shared and solutions are proposed 6. Proposed recommendations are submitted to WAHO General Management and KfW for approval for the 2nd phase of the project.

The effective background to the meetings is the fact that the 2014-2016 Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic tragically demonstrated the failure of epidemiological surveillance systems at national and regional levels.

 Based on a financing agreement between the German Development Bank (KfW) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), represented by the West African Health Organization (WAHO), as well as a separate agreement between WAHO and KfW, the German government, through KfW, has allocated a budget of 10 million euros for the project entitled “Strengthening of epidemiological services and systems of health in ECOWAS countries” (PROALAB).

 The main objective is to better protect the population of the region against epidemic diseases. The project aims to strengthen in ECOWAS the sustainable development of structures and capacities allowing the rapid identification of outbreaks of infectious diseases in the territories of its partner States in order to allow a rapid and effective response to the prevention of an epidemic.

The main objective of the project is to extend the regional epidemiological surveillance system by strengthening the Network of National and Regional Reference Laboratories.

The Foundation Mérieux and the consulting firm GFA signed a consortium agreement as part of this KFW-funded project aimed at supporting 11 national and regional reference laboratories in four countries (Burkina Faso, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria).

This project, which effectively started these activities in September 2018, has made progress in strengthening the structures involved (solar, IT and laboratory equipment’s, renovations) for which procurement processes are at an advanced level.

Training and Technical assistance activities have also been initiated to support laboratories towards accreditation according to ISO 15189. In addition, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, huge adjustments have been made in its implementation and led the KfW to release an emergency fund allocated to support the regional effort to fight against this pandemic for an amount of 5.72 million euros.

It was in this context that the 1st meetings of the Technical and Steering Committees of PROALAB were organized to assess the level of implementation of the project and make recommendations.