Early detection halts outbreaks in Togo and Benin

First results of the work of the German Epidemic Preparedness Team hold a lot of promise

Dr. Adodo Sadji

In Togo and Benin, recent outbreaks of Lassa fever were detected and effectively halted before they could spread and turn into epidemics. The national laboratories in the two countries played a vital role in these responses – due, in part, to the support they had received from the German Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG).

„Yes, we are proud“, says Adodo Sadji, who heads a laboratory at Togo’s National Institute of Hygiene. Together with his team he managed to achieve what just one year ago would have taken much longer: the early detection of an outbreak, which constitutes the first step of a coordinated national response to it.

A fast and targeted national response

In late February 2017, Sadji’s laboratory in Lomé received a sample from a patient suspected of having Lassa fever, a disease which causes symptoms similar to those of Ebola. Within just a few hours, the lab technicians were able to detect the Lassa virus – prompting a targeted national response to stop the virus from spreading any further.

Without delay both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Togo’s Ministry of Health sent epidemiological teams to the affected area who identified and quarantined infected persons in order to minimize the risk of additional infections.

Fostering partner countries’ preparedness for outbreaks

“It is very encouraging to see our efforts pay off in this way” says Michael Nagel of GIZ, one of the three organisations who jointly run the German Epidemic Preparedness Team. Commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2016, and known by its German acronym SEEG, experts from GIZ, the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine and the Robert Koch Institute support partner countries in preparing for and responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases. SEEG is an important element of Germany’s commitment to improving international crisis management in the health sector – a consequence of the lessons learned from the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Support provided just in time

Working safely with dangerous pathogens

“We are also very proud of our partners for detecting this Lassa outbreak early on. This is exactly what we had in mind during our missions in May and July of last year” says Nagel. At the time, SEEG had provided the National Institute of Hygiene with the necessary equipment and then trained its laboratory team in the various skills and techniques needed for diagnosing Lassa fever.

Motivated by his team’s improved diagnostic capacities, Adodo Sadji then arranged for over 120 lab technicians across Togo to be trained in taking samples of suspected hemorrhagic fever cases.

Mission accomplished

From March 5 to 17 2017, upon request of Benin’s Ministry of Health, another SEEG team carried out a similar mission. “We set up diagnostics for Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika fever – all of these cause similar symptoms and are diseases with considerable epidemic potential”, explains Nagel, who led the SEEG team. “And our mission was timely: Several cases of suspected Lassa fever had just occurred. The laboratory team was simply overwhelmed by the number of samples they had to test and they did not have the necessary experience either. So we helped them out and trained them, there and then, on the job. It was a great experience for all of us.”

Like in Togo, the Lassa outbreak in Benin was halted and in both countries the national laboratory teams are now better prepared for future crises. And this is exactly what SEEG set out to achieve: Mission accomplished!

Further information

Sandra Voglreiter
April 2017

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