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A second SARS-CoV-2 real-time PCR laboratory further strengthens regional SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic capacities in Namibia (12 to 26 August 2021)

Fig.1: Establishment of the new Walvis Bay diagnostic laboratory © RKIFig.1: Establishment of the new Walvis Bay diagnostic laboratory © RKI

Identification of SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals is crucial to initiate appropriate treatment of COVID-19 patients and to prevent the spread of infections. However, in countries like Namibia there are remote areas where the timely diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 suspected cases is an enormous challenge due to limited diagnostic capacities on site and long delays due to sample transport over long distance to the central laboratory in Windhoek. This gap has been identified in the course of an Intra-Action Review (IAR) conducted in October 2020 where RKI has participated within the frame of the GHPP-funded Namibia-RKI Twinning Project (TwiNit). Therefore, the TwiNit project team works together with the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) and the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) on the strengthening of regional diagnostic laboratory capacities, in particular at points of entry.

In a previous mission, in May 2021, and with support from the University of Namibia (UNAM), SARS-CoV-2 real-time PCR diagnostic was first implemented in Katima Mulilo in the Zambesi region in the far Northeast. Staff was trained, and the laboratory was provided with equipment and material for the first weeks of testing. This regional laboratory was set up just in time to meet the challenges of the 3rd wave of COVID-19 which had hit Namibia very hard in June and July this year.

In a recent follow-up mission, in August 2021, a team from ZIG 4 and from NIP successfully established the second regional PCR diagnostic laboratory in Walvis Bay on the Atlantic coast. A major challenge for this project part was the need for suitable space to install the laboratory. As Walvis Bay is one of the major ports in southern Africa, this problem was solved by converting a shipping container into a PCR laboratory with three adequate areas suitable for the diagnostic workflow. Implementation of the laboratory equipment (see figure 1) that had been procured with funding from the COVID-19 response measures from the German Federal Ministry of Health was followed by an intense and very fruitful, hands-on training (figure 2). After five days of training (figure 3), the very dedicated staff was able to start the testing of samples on site that previously had to be transported to Windhoek. The laboratory was equipped with material for the first weeks of testing and for the time being ZIG4 continues to support remotely with expertise when needed.

Fig. 2: Hands-on training in the “container lab”. Preparation of the PCR master mix © RKIFig. 2: Hands-on training in the “container lab”. Preparation of the PCR master mix © RKI

For the training it was remarkable that also the laboratory head in Walvis Bay, Mr. Heath Hamumba enthusiastically participated during the complete training. Further, the participation of a local trainer from NIP Windhoek turned out to be extremely valuable, not only for the training but also as a future point of contact for the local staff in Walvis Bay.

The TwiNit project team is now looking forward to establish the third regional laboratory in Keetmanshoop which serves the whole southern region of Namibia. At the hospital site ample laboratory space is available but NIP first has to prepare the rooms according to the needs and plans developed during an earlier assessment mission in May 2021. Already, RKI has procured the necessary laboratory equipment, consumables, and reagents.

The installation of real-time PCR diagnostic laboratories in regional areas and the training of staff will sustainably improve diagnostic capacities in Namibia well beyond the current pandemic as an important part of the collaboration between RKI and the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services to support the implementation of a Namibia Institute of Public Health.

Fig.3: The successful trainees proudly present their certificates of participation © RKIFig.3: The successful trainees proudly present their certificates of participation © RKI

Date: 28.10.2021