Some 70 participants, including the leading figures in clinical biology from Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, gathered in Lomé, November 18-20, for the RESAOLAB International Steering Committee. The meeting was held under the high authority of Kwesi Séléagodji Ahoomey-Zunu, Prime Minister, Minister of Health of Togo. This West African network of biomedical analysis laboratories is made possible thanks to the support of Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Fondation Mérieux, International Cooperation of the Principality of Monaco, Islamic Development Bank, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
During this second annual meeting, which convenes the representatives of all RESAOLAB member countries, the program coordinator, Dr. Jean-Louis Machuron, presented the actions the network has undertaken in response to the Ebola epidemic and to support its members. Three member countries have been affected by the epidemic: Guinea, where it started 8 months ago, Senegal, which has successfully stopped it, and Mali, which recently recorded its first deaths. Dr. Aboubacar Sidiki Diakité, President of the National Health Crisis Committee of Guinea and president of Guinea’s National RESAOLAB Committee, provided an overview of the actions taken in his country and perspectives for the coming months.
RESAOLAB members have been deeply engaged in fighting the Ebola epidemic since its start. They have focused on strengthening capacities for Ebola prevention and diagnosis in West African countries.
Secure sample transport
Since June, Fondation Mérieux has been shipping secure sample kits to enable specimens to be safely sent from peripheral labs to reference laboratories or laboratory directorates. This has been generalized to all countries in the network.
Analyzing suspected Ebola specimens at the P4 Jean Mérieux-Inserm laboratory for countries that are unable to perform diagnostics on site
Through RESAOLAB, Fondation Mérieux offered secure sample kits with user guides to nine West African countries: the RESAOLAB countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo) as well as Cameroun and Guinea-Bissau. Transportation to the P4 Jean Mérieux laboratory is pre-paid by Fondation Mérieux and the secure system for shipping the samples is coordinated by Bioport, enables countries to test samples as quickly as possible. The system was established with Institut Pasteur and Inserm, which manages the P4 Jean Mérieux laboratory.
As of November, two pallets of 72 boxes for secure sample shipment have been sent to Guinea. A pallet of 72 boxes has been sent to each of the following countries: Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali.
During the International Steering Committee in Lomé, participants are looking at how to replace the emergency measures by a durable system, enabling each country to perform its own diagnostic testing.
Protecting laboratory personnel
Fifty kits of personal protective equipment, purchased for RESAOLAB, will be delivered in November to Guinea, covering most of the laboratories in the country. Each kit contains fifty protective suits in addition to gloves, facial splash guards and masks.
Training laboratory personnel on hemorrhagic fevers and biosecurity
Fondation Mérieux and its RESAOLAB partners developed training courses adapted to the crisis, which have been deployed in West African countries since July. Over 500 laboratory professionals have been trained in the 7 countries belonging to the network through multiple decentralized training sessions in the field.
An e-learning training module is being finalized to make the course accessible to laboratory technicians worldwide. The course will be available in the Ebola created in Fondation Mérieux’s GLOBE web site. The site makes it possible to share training modules, Ebola response procedures developed by RESAOLAB and its partners and individual countries’ plans and actions underway.
Providing expertise in West Africa
Since early November, Dr. Christophe Longuet, Fondation Mérieux’s Medical Director is the medical advisor for the opening of the first Ebola treatment center in Macenta, Guinea, working with the French Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). His mission will last six weeks.
The virologist and expert in hemorrhagic fevers, Dr. Christophe Peyrefitte, and Dr. Jean-Louis Machuron conducted a consulting and training mission in Guinea for its Ministry of Health and crisis unit.
Following an assessment visit last May, the virologist Dr. Joseph Fair has been conducting a mission for Fondation Mérieux since August, focused on strengthening diagnostic capacities for Ebola in Sierra Leone. Dr. Fair was at the Kenema hospital at the beginning of the outbreak and serves as an advisor to the Minister of Health of Sierra Leone.
Prof. Dominique Peyramond, member of Fondation Mérieux’s board of directors and a specialist in infectious and tropical disease at the Croix Rousse hospital (Lyon, France) and Dr. Aboubacar Sidiki Diakité ran a workshop on Ebola in Burkina Faso as part of the Clinical Biology Days.
Other activities during the International Steering Committee in Lomé
In addition to an significant part of the meeting focused on Ebola, other workshops cover training modules for laboratory technicians, laboratory accreditation and management of the network.
The foundation stone was laid for a new center for the Division of Laboratories and the Department of Pharmacy and Medicine of Togo, officiated by Kwesi Séléagodji Ahoomey-Zunu, Prime Minister and Minister of Health of Togo and by the French Ambassador to Togo, Marc Fonbaustier. Dr. Monique Dorkenoo, Togo RESAOLAB program coordinator, Benoit Lebeurre, Director of AFD Togo and Adrien Absolu, Project Leader for Agence Française de Développement’s Health & Social Protection Division, Benoît Miribel, Director General of Fondation Mérieux and Dr. Jean-Louis Machuron, RESAOLAB program coordinator, were among the participants.
The new 900 m2 center has two floors, one for the Department of Pharmacy and Medicine of Togo and the other for the management of the country’s laboratories, bringing under one roof the Division of Laboratories of the Ministry of Health of Togo, a continuing training center and an external quality control unit. Its construction is funded by the RESAOLAB program with Fondation Mérieux as project manager.
Other Fondation Mérieux actions in the Ebola crisis
- Crans Montana Forum: Fondation Mérieux co-organized an Ebola seminar at the Crans Montana Forum in Geneva. Benoit Miribel and Philippe Douste Blazy, Under Secretary General of the United Nations, co-chaired a session with Sylvie Briand from WHO, Thomas Nierle from Médecins Sans Frontières and six African ministers of health.
- Organization of a conference to review the actions underway in the area of Ebola vaccines, in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), at Les Pensières conference center, January 12-13, 2015.
Strengthening diagnostic capabilities
- Participating in a project to establish a P3 mobile laboratory and training plan in Mali, in partnership with the Mali Ministry of Health, the Charles Mérieux Center for Infectious Disease in Bamako, the GIZ (German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation), and the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology. Project in development.
- Participating in the creation of a mobile P3+ laboratory, the EUWAM Lab project (Establishment of a Mobile Laboratory for in situ interventions on VHF outbreak sites in combination with CBRN Capacity Building in Western Africa) with France Expertise Internationale, Inserm and Institut Pasteur.
- Providing ambulances, body transport vehicles and all-wheel drive motorcycles to transport samples, delivered in November and December for Liberia and Sierra Leone through funding from the U.S. State Department.
- Memorandum of Understanding signed September 12th with Institut Pasteur to develop projects to address the Ebola epidemic and other hemorrhagic fevers.
- Memorandum of Understanding signed September 18th with the Chinese CDC, Inserm and Institut Pasteur for cooperation in the field of prevention and control of highly pathogenic infectious diseases such as Ebola virus.
- Project for fast-track Ebola treatment trials, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Member of a consortium that includes Oxford University, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Institut Pasteur to establish clinical trials for different treatments in Ebola centers in Africa.