On Thursday 16th March 2017, USA Ambassador to Sierra Leone, John Hoover, officially handed over a mobile diagnostic laboratory estimated at $7 million USD to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation at the Lakka Hospital.
In 2014-2015 Sierra Leone experienced a dark era with the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus that killed thousands of people because of the country’s weak medical and health sector.
Because of these lapses in the medical sector, responses to tackle the outbreak were delayed according to Dr. Victor Matt Lebbie, in charge of Hospital and Laboratory services in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
The USA was one of the first countries to respond to the outbreak; by mid-January in 2014, the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Cooperative Biological Engagement Program deployed a fully-equipped mobile laboratory which was stationed at Moyamba.
According to Ambassador Hoover, “the mobile laboratory played a vital role in the Ebola response, enabling health professionals to test over 14,000 samples since June, 2015”.
He explained that the DTRA lab was but one part of the US’s Government unprecedented disease response during the outbreak and during which they deployed over 1,000 expert emergency responders, two diagnostic laboratories, vehicle and funded multiple burial teams and Ebola treatment units.
At the end of the Ebola virus in 2015, the mobile laboratory lab was transferred to the Central Public Health Reference Lab (CPHRL) in Lakka.
Ambassador Hoover said, “Today’s ceremony marks the formal transfer of ownership of the laboratory to the CPHRL staff. The United States Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) program will continue training lab personnel, providing expertise, and supporting the laboratory in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation for the next two years”.
U.S. Ambassador John Hoover said, “We both seek health security – that is, knowing that if there is an outbreak of a dangerous disease like Ebola, we have the means here in Sierra Leone to stop it in its tracks, before it becomes a crisis, before it kills thousands, and before it spreads to other parts of the world.”
In addition to providing on going laboratory support, DTRA has begun a renovation project for the CPHRL complex valued at over $8 million. This renovation will make the CPHRL one of the most sophisticated laboratories in West Africa with potential to be a leader in research, innovation, and global collaboration in biosecurity and emerging biological threats.
Director of Hospital and Laboratory services in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation Dr. Victor Matt Lebbie said the lab is important in their line of work because it provides support in terms of testing of different samples noting that during the outbreak of the Ebola the country didn’t have the capacity to test for these diseases.
Dr. Lebbie efficiently equipped as suspected samples collected across the country will be sent to lab and will be tested within 24 hours. He maintained the lab is capable of testing for yellow fever, influenza, polio and HIV.
By Mariam S. Bah
Friday March 17, 2017.