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Global Health Systems Solutions (GHSS) has delivered professional development on basic biosafety and biosecurity in medical laboratories to 12 laboratory professionals from the reference laboratories of six West African countries, including Mali, Benin, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, and Cape Verde. The training workshop was organized by Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and GHSS within the framework of implementing the RISLNET West Africa project. 

 The representative of Africa CDC ,  Reiche Massengo (standing up),
officially opening the training workshop. Photo Credit: Shancho/GHSS

The Basic Biosafety and Biosecurity Training Workshop took place from the 7th to the 11th of November 2022 in Lome-Togo. Also present at this training workshop to oversee and ensure the smooth running of activities were the Africa CDC representative, Mr. Reiche Massengo, who is also the Community Health Officer & Team Member of the Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Network (RISLNET), and the Deputy Executive Director of GHSS, and coordinator of the RISLNET West Africa project at GHSS Mr. Ntongowa Callistus. The training was organized as a supplementary package to support the implementation of Strengthening Laboratory Management Toward Accreditation (SLMTA) being carried out by GHSS, within the framework of the implementation of the RISLNET West Africa project, funded by Africa CDC with collaboration from the West Africa Health Organization (WAHO), to strengthen the laboratory systems and health systems of countries in the west African sub-region.

Training session on biosafety and biosecurity in Lome-Togo. Photo Credit: Shancho/GHSS

“Africa CDC wants to strengthen the health systems in Africa, including the laboratory component. This training is therefore important to strengthen the capacity of the laboratory workforce so that they can be able to protect themselves and protect their working environment, and the community where they work. Supervisory visits will be organized to follow up and provide further guidance and support where need be,” Mr. Reiche Massengo said during the week-long training workshop. According to him, “RISLNET envisages a network where everyone will take advantage of the assets in the regions to manage an outbreak of diseases and pandemics in the continent.”  

On a similar note, Mr. Ntongowa Callistus, the project coordinator, noted that “laboratory biosafety and biosecurity activities are fundamental to protecting the laboratory workforce and the wider community against unintentional exposures or release of pathogens and biological waste.”

The GHSS RISLNET West Africa Project Coordinator implored the laboratory managers and technicians to use the lessons and skills learned from this training and share them with their colleagues who did not have the opportunity to be part of the training to ensure a more significant impact.

Trainees and trainers in an experiential learning session. Photo Credit: Shancho/GHSS

The 5-day training workshop enlightened the laboratory professionals on chemical hygiene, hazardous and biological waste management, chemical spill response, laboratory ventilation, and biosecurity, amongst others. Participants were unanimous with the fact that this training was timely.

“Biosafety and biosecurity are key components in laboratory safety. Before now, we had some understanding of safety, but not to this level. With sample shipment, we used to follow standards, but now the level of understanding has increased. I have been taught the different international standards, which I will go home and implement for the benefit of my laboratory and home country. We used to rely on PPE as safety measures with no particular attention to the administrative and engineering safety measures, general safety and barrier measures. This training has been an eye opener for me,” Mr. Mohamed Saio Kamara, a Laboratory Scientist from Sierra Leone, attested.  

Group Work. Photo Credit: Shancho/GHSS

The training had a similar impact on Mr. Alvin Sinatue, a staff at the Molecular lab department of the National Reference Laboratory of Liberia. “We test for diseases like Ebola, COVID-19, yellow fever etc. So, this training has helped me to know how to better protect myself against any of these infectious pathogens and viruses,” he said

Like all others, participants from Cape Verde, Mali, Togo, and Benin left the biosafety and biosecurity training workshop determined to share the lessons and skills acquired with their colleagues and implement the necessary steps to ensure effective risk management in their respective laboratories.

“I learnt the different steps necessary to ensure risk management in the laboratory and will be implementing them in our laboratory. As a laboratory lead, I will also train other laboratory technicians in my country on biosafety and biosecurity in the lab,” said Mme. Varela Dos Santos Barbosa Menilita from Cape Verde.

The Lead Trainer at Biosafety and Biosecurity Training workshop, Dr. Taziebou lienou Clement, emphasized the need for continuous quality improvement in the laboratory, noting that “ensuring quality is a journey without a destination. Without a proper quality system, clinical laboratories are essentially unsafe for patients. Poor quality results can cause mistrust between laboratories and end users and hinder global efforts to fight infectious diseases and outbreaks”.

The Deputy Executive Director/Project Coordinator (R) hands over attestation to a trainee (L). Photo Credit: Shancho/GHSS

 At the end of the workshop, each participant identified and chose an improvement project to implement in their laboratory. The team of trainers will conduct a supervisory visit to the different laboratories within 3 to 5 weeks after the biosafety and biosecurity training to measure the progress made by each participant in the implementation of the lessons and skills learned as well as the implementation of the individual improvement projects taken up at the SLMTA 1 and 2 training. Additional guidance will be provided during this visit to ensure the participants are on track with the modules taught in the different workshops. After these supervisory visits, an audit of each laboratory will be conducted by ASLM-certified auditors from GHSS to determine the progress made by each laboratory after receiving the different training modules of SLMTA 1, SLMTA 2 and the basic biosafety and biosecurity in a medical laboratory. This effort is geared toward moving each reference laboratory towards ISO 15189 accreditation.