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Success Story: Strengthening Laboratory Capacity in DRC

 Vysnova/GWU Team conducting a health needs assessment with hospital staff at the Ingende lab. 

Between March 15 and April 3, 2021, Dr. Christopher Mores, Sarah Tritsch, and Abbey Porzucek of George Washington University (GWU), Vysnova’s sub awardee, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to build relationships with then the Institut National pour la Recherche Biomedicale (INRB), DRC Ministry of Health (MoH), Provincial Division of Health (DPS), and the laboratory team in Ingende. Through a series of meetings and collaborative dialogues, the Vysnova/GWU team discussed future capacity building. The team additionally provided supplies for the mobile sequencing lab in Kinshasa, as well as diagnostic equipment and training activities to the lab in Ingende. This trip ultimately provided opportunities for relationship building between governmental organizations in the DRC and the CDC, enhance laboratory capacities in the DRC, and plan future activities between the Vysnova/GWU team and our partners in the DRC. 

Current Lab Activities 
Tested 117 patients for Ebola using the two GeneXperts that the CDC provided – all samples were negative. Additionally, malaria smears are being conducted once per week using a microscope that is brought in from Mbandaka 

 The Vysnova/GWU team conducted the following meetings while in the DRC: 

  • The team met with Drs. Mbala and Makangara in Kinshasa. This meeting focused on identifying the local needs. Additionally, the team discussed using multi-pathogen diagnostics for viral discovery in banked samples collected from the 10th Ebola outbreak in North Kivu from patients suspected, but negative for Ebola. Furthermore, the Vysnova/GWU team discussed with Dr. Mbala whether CDC approval could be obtained to train his staff for field deployments of INRB activities beyond Kinshasaas well as to provide financial support for supplies and reagents. It is important to note that INRB has become the main lab for SARS-CoV-2 sequencing in the region, and processes samples from South Africa, Chad, Cameroon, and Congo. INRB is also setting up a training laboratory at the University of Kinshasa. Finally, Dr. Mbala said he would like to examine the 90% of the 200,000 unknown fever samples that were Ebola negative to see what else is circulating in the population. This could help enhance the response to future outbreaks of fevers of unknown origin, which occur frequently.  
  • In Equateur, the team met with the regional DPS director, Dr. Mosale, to discuss the needs of the region and the relationship between the Mbandka and Ingende labs. Dr. Mosale raised the idea of increasing the educational opportunities available to students of the Mbandaka Medical School and in collaboration with the CDC to improve administrative and community support for CDC partners in Equateur.    
  • In Equateur, the team additionally met with Dr. Fabien, the director of the Mbandaka MoH lab. During this meeting, Dr. Fabien provided additional insight into the structure of the local laboratory referral system and expressed gratitude for the support the CDC has provided to the four health zones in Equateur, which include the Ingende and Mbandaka labs. 
  • In Ingende, the Vysnova/GWU team met with Dr. Christian, who represents the hospital leadership. Here, the team discussed high priority items to keep the hospital lab functioning, including critical support for the VSAT and solar panels that maintain storage battery systems and blood storage refrigerators. While here, the team additionally provided training for the use of malaria rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and a hematology analyzer (QBC Star).  

This trip not only helped the team gain insight into the locally defined goals of our partner communities but also reaffirmed our commitment to the health and well-being of our partners in the DRC.