COVID-19: The Mérieux Foundation deploys diagnostic and research expertise on the ground


In the fight against infectious diseases, the Mérieux Foundation has always worked as closely as possible with local partners in the field. From the first COVID-19 epidemic alerts, the foundation took action to provide aid adapted to the low-income countries where it works.

First reported on December 31, 2019 in Wuhan, China, the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) rapidly reached global epidemic proportions and destabilized some of the world’s most robust health systems. True to its commitment to public health in developing countries, the Mérieux Foundation, with its partners, mobilized resources to respond to the crisis. The foundation has made the fight against COVID-19 a priority, by massively dispatching diagnostic tests, launching or expanding projects and supporting local health authorities.

Strengthening local diagnostic capacities

Diagnostic kits that are essential for identifying patients and implementing effective quarantine measures were sent to fourteen laboratories in thirteen countries between March and June.

Strengthening local SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic capability

A program of training and technology transfer was set up to support local laboratories in performing these tests: transmission of operating procedures and WHO recommendations on biosafety, dispatch of protective equipment and disinfectants, and organization of training teleconferences with each laboratory.

To ensure sufficient volumes to meet demand, the foundation has provided two different detection kits: one developed by the Charité laboratory in Berlin, validated by the WHO, and the other developed by the Christophe Mérieux Laboratory in Beijing, validated by the Chinese CDC (test used for all COVID-19 screening in China).

Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratories at the heart of the fight against COVID-19

The Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory in Beirut was mandated by the Lebanese Ministry of Health to carry
out COVID-19 screening alongside the Rafik Hariri University Hospital laboratory.

In Brazil, the Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory in Rio Branco is the only facility in the State of Acre responsible for the COVID-19 testing (by the end of May 2020, nearly 12,000 tests had been performed). It has been integrated into the State’s public health network.

Limiting nosocomial infections

To address the high circulation of COVID-19 within healthcare structures, the Mérieux Foundation and the Lyon Civil Hospitals (Hospices Civils de Lyon) developed the NOSO-COR research protocol to assess the risk of nosocomial transmission.

The project, which receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will document cases of COVID-19, nosocomial transmission processes, and hospital infection prevention and control practices and policies.

The foundation manages the protocol implementation in seven countries on three continents (Mali, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Burkina-Faso, Madagascar, Bangladesh, Brazil, Lebanon) and the The Lyon Civil Hospitals is responsible for the implementation in eight French University Hospitals.

Providing public health advice

Throughout the crisis, the foundation’s experts have been in regular contact with healthcare decision-makers and professionals in the field, particularly through its laboratory networks.

By providing individualized support, in close connection with those working in the field, the foundation’s teams facilitated and guided the work of laboratory personnel. They provided advice both on testing:

  •  choice of tests to be used, handling of samples, transport protocols
  • and on the screening strategies and response policies to be implemented at the national level.

A special effort was made regarding biosafety in the face of a disease that is highly contagious, with strong support for the implementation of local production of hydroalcoholic solution. The foundation has also been asked by the Laboratory Directorates to address issues related to diagnostic strategy and the development of public health interventions.

Adapting current projects

Several projects already initiated have benefited from additional top-up payments or budget reallocation to respond to the COVID-19 emergency. This responsiveness and adaptability owe much to the mutual trust between the foundation and its funding partners – a strength of the foundation that made a tremendous difference in the context of the health crisis of Spring 2020.

This emergency funding included:

  • L’AFD (Agence Française de Développement) has allocated an additional envelope to support the Laboratory Directorates of the seven member countries of the RESAOLAB program, and has allocated COVID-19 funding to the LABOGUI project in favor of 39 hospital laboratories in Guinea (protective equipment, reagents and disinfectants).
  • AFD is also helping the GHESKIO Centers in Haiti, the Mérieux Foundation’s longstanding partner, to strengthen diagnostic capacities and provide technical assistance to the Public Health Laboratory.
  • Expertise France provided additional funding to introduce a COVID-19 component to the APRECIT project in Madagascar and Cameroon. APRECIT, whose initial objective was to compare tuberculosis screening strategies, now integrates COVID-19 screening tests and will analyze the interactions between the two pathologies.
  • Expertise France is funding a COVID-19 extension to the EVAMAD project in Madagascar which focuses on increasing the coverage of HIV viral load testing: prevention and initiation of a study on HIV/COVID-19 co-infection.

Solidarity actions in France 

The Mérieux Foundation also intervened in France through solidarity actions.

The Pensières Center for Global Health, for example, took part in local solidarity efforts by providing meals for the Annecy-Genevois Hospital’s medical teams working the night shift at the height of the crisis.