The East African Community (EAC) comprises of seven EAC Partner States, namely Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and more recently the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. The purpose of the EAC Regional Network of Public Health Reference Laboratories for Communicable Diseases Project (Phase I) was to install nine mobile laboratories in order to strengthen the capacity in six of the EAC Partner States (DRC was not a member at the time of project implementation), to detect and respond to pathogens of biosafety level 3 and 4 (BSL3/4) nature, with a particular focus on viral haemorrhagic viruses (VHFs), such as Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), among others. The project was established with the One Health Disease Control group supporting the project implementation alongside the EAC.
Overall, the EAC Regional Network of Public Health Reference Laboratories for Communicable Diseases aims to reduce the burden of communicable disease outbreaks to the population by strengthening the capacity of the EAC Partner States to respond to suspected outbreaks timely.
- To strengthen sustainable structures at National Public Health Laboratories and capacities for the rapid identification of infectious disease outbreaks by establishing mobile diagnostic laboratories
- To strengthen capacities in EAC Partner States to respond to pathogens of bio-safety level (BSL) 3 and 4 and other outbreaks of infectious diseases, prone to cause cross border epidemics
- To enable EAC countries to mobilise from within country as rapid first line response
- To enable the identification of pathogens by establishing broader screening diagnostics capacity
- To enhance the capacity of the EAC Partner States to respond to suspected outbreaks timely
The Phase I mobile laboratories are of modular design and, depending on the need, can be packed up in 15-20 boxes and rapidly deployed to any potential outbreak either by car, plane or boat. The key equipment of these laboratories is a BSL3/4 containment glovebox in which viruses and bacteria can be inactivated and rendered non-infectious for further diagnosis. Since established, the 9 mobile laboratories have been continuously active in the EAC region, responding to the COVID19 pandemic and various sporadic outbreaks, including Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (VHFs), such as Ebola in Uganda (2022) and Marburg in Tanzania (2023). Under the project, we have built the laboratory capacity within our partner institutions of the National Public Health Laboratories (NPHLs) in the EAC Partner States. To date, over 70 laboratory personnel have been trained in the operations of the mobile laboratory, in addition to biomedical engineers, ICT experts, bioinformaticians and drivers, who have also been trained to ensure project sustainability.