Sierra Leone’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to public health emergencies has been enhanced by the provision of a clinical research laboratory attached to the Makeni Regional Government Hospital.
The international-standard laboratory will serve as a space for surveillance and diagnostics testing and has been made possible by funding from the United States, through the non-profit CDC Foundation.
Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) has equipped the new laboratory with biomedical and technological tools and furnishings including laboratory equipment, biosafety cabinets, robots designed for molecular and microbiological testing, workstations, freezers and refrigerators.
Currently in Sierra Leone one in every 32 babies born dies within the first 28 days of life; and one in every 10 children dies before their fifth birthday. This means out of 1,150,000 children under the age of five, more than 27,000 die across the country every single year – that’s approximately one under-five death every 20 minutes.
To tackle the high infant and child mortality rates in Sierra Leone, in 2017 the Ministry of Health & Sanitation (MoHS) entered into a partnership with CHAMPS to determine and track the causes of under-five mortality and stillbirths through epidemiologic surveillance.
This includes post-mortem sampling (needle-based autopsies) and reporting within 24 hours of death.
The laboratory has been established as a new workspace for CHAMPS and MOHS and will help to build national capacity to better understand the causes of these deaths.
The generated data will in turn inform preventive actions at the policy, capacity-building, health facility, community and family levels across the country. The laboratory is also set to enhance readiness for future pandemics and can be utilized for testing diseases such as COVID-19.
Speaking about the opening of the laboratory the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Austin Demby PhD, MSc, BSc said, “Our partnership with the CHAMPS network is already contributing to strengthening our health system towards universal health care in Sierra Leone. This includes counselling families and communities on maternal and child health and mortality prevention; strengthening the capacity of medical staff for proper diagnosis and care; facilitating improvements in the documentation and storage of clinical records and ensuring the functioning of health facilities by providing support for basic services and equipment. I’m pleased that this new laboratory will help to ensure the important work of determining and tracking causes of under-five mortality and stillbirths continues.”
Speaking about the contributions from the United States, U.S. Ambassador David Reimer said, “The United States government, with support from the CDC foundation and its donors and technical assistance from the CDC, is delighted to have been able to fund the construction of this new laboratory. Partnering with Sierra Leone on achieving better health outcomes for all, particularly those most vulnerable, is a cornerstone of our work here. This laboratory is an important part of U.S.-Sierra Leonean collaboration, together with the great work already being done to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, treat and prevent malaria, and stop the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
Director of the Emory Global Health Institute, Dr. Rebecca Martin also noted, “This new laboratory will enhance Sierra Leone’s capacity to detect the most pressing causes of child death in Sierra Leone. That data will be used for critical decision making to save the lives of children. Additionally, the laboratory will be important in strengthening Sierra Leone’s preparedness and response to public health threats.”
CHAMPS Site Director Sierra Leone, Dr. Ikechukwu Ogbuanu stated, “During the height of the pandemic, our previous lab was converted into a COVID-19 regional testing centre, and our team’s work pivoted to support that testing. This new state-of-the-art lab will help us to continue our contribution to the national goal of preventing young children needlessly dying in Sierra Leone.”
CHAMPS in Sierra Leone is managed by an international development organisation, Crown Agents, with funding from the Gates Foundation through the Emory Global Heath Institute (EGHI). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also provided funding and technical support to CHAMPS since its inception.