The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Friday unveiled a China-aided reference laboratory at its headquarters in Ethiopia. The Africa CDC said the completion of the laboratory marks a milestone in its pursuit of a strong continental public health institution that will support African Union (AU) members in improving disease diagnosis, surveillance and outbreak response.
Senior officials from the AU Commission and the Africa CDC, diplomats from the Chinese mission to the AU and high-level dignitaries witnessed the unveiling ceremony inside the premises of the Africa CDC headquarters in the southern suburb of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Jean Kaseya, the director-general of the Africa CDC, commended the Chinese government for its support of the realization of a new public health order and architecture in Africa that can prevent, detect and respond to any kind of public health threat in the continent. “The reference laboratory that we are inaugurating will elevate the Africa CDC’s role in addressing multiple public health events timely and effectively. It will be one of our major outputs in terms of a new public health order that we are promoting to make Africa CDC a world-class organization,” the Africa CDC chief said.
“China is supporting the African agenda for public health,” Kaseya said. The laboratory is fully equipped and will promote collaboration on capacity building of member states to have strong laboratory systems and networks to improve clinical care, support surveillance and outbreak response and facilitate technology transfer to African institutions.
The laboratory facility, equipped with two biosafety level (BSL)-I, four BSL-II, two specialized BSL-II (BSL-II plus) and two high containment laboratories (BSL-III), aims to address significant gaps in laboratory systems in Africa, the Africa CDC said. Hu Changchun, head of the Chinese mission to the AU, said the inauguration of the Africa CDC new headquarters earlier this year and the unveiling of the new laboratory will open a new chapter in the public health cause in Africa, and inject new momentum into China-Africa health cooperation.
“The Africa CDC headquarters is a flagship project announced at the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. In just 25 months, the two sides have gone through tremendous challenges and successfully completed the project. This demonstrates our strong determination and action in solidarity to overcome difficulties together,” Hu said.
According to the Africa CDC, less than 5 percent of African laboratories can reliably diagnose priority diseases in their countries, transport specimens safely, and meet international standards. Against this backdrop, expanding clinical and public health laboratory systems and networks in Africa is deemed to be one of Africa CDC’s top priorities for the 2023-2027 period. The agency said the China-aided laboratory will play a crucial role in achieving this goal by ensuring the expansion of laboratory services and in conducting pathogen research and epidemiology in Africa.
Shen Hongbing, vice administrator of the China National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control and director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said the Chinese government has always attached great importance to China-Africa cooperation. He reiterated that the China CDC, as a national public health institute, has been committed to promoting technical exchange and collaborations in public health between China and African countries.
According to Shen, since 2017, the China CDC has sent five experts to the Africa CDC to support its infectious disease surveillance, laboratory networking, information system strengthening and the design of its headquarters layout, among others.
“These collaborations at the institutional and expert level over the years are instrumental to the rapid development of public health capacity building in Africa and contribute to reinforcing the long-term China-Africa friendship,” Shen said.
As a center of excellence, the laboratory is expected to house antimicrobial susceptibility testing for surveillance of antimicrobial resistance across the continent, biochemical analysis, multiplex molecular diagnosis capacity, bio-banking, and advanced pathogen genomic sequencing including metagenomic sequencing capacity for identification of unknown pathogens.