Epidemic Preparedness: Ready ToGo

The German Epidemic Preparedness Team successfully completed its first mission

Diagnosing Lassa fever in a Togolese laboratory

Based on the lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak German Development Minister Gerd Müller decided to set up an Epidemic Preparedness Team. It is part of Germany`s efforts to contribute to the international response to infectious disease outbreaks. 

In late March 2016 Adodo Sadji from the National Institute of Hygiene in Togo got very bad news: laboratories in the USA and Germany had confirmed the first two cases of Lassa fever in the country – a pernicious disease quite similar to Ebola.

Sadji got in touch with the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) in Hamburg with whom he had worked on previous occasions. As members of the Epidemic Preparedness Team’s network SEEG, the BNITM colleagues shortly after called the responsible project managers at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Bonn. In May the first Epidemic Preparedness Team with experts from BNITM, GIZ and Robert Koch Institute (RKI) was deployed to Togo. Their task: to look into ways of strengthening the Togolese laboratory capacities so as to prevent the disease from spreading further.

Why an Epidemic Preparedness Team?

Based on the lessons learned from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, BMZ commissioned GIZ to coordinate a team of experts that could be quickly deployed to countries in need of specialist support. After an outbreak is first reported, there is often a delay before the established international response mechanisms kick in: the new Epidemic Preparedness Team aims to bridge this gap.

German experts training partners from National Institute of Hygiene.

‘We want to strengthen partner countries’ defense systems against disease outbreaks at a very early stage,’ says Project Manager Annette Bremer. ‘Whether an infectious disease spreads does not only depend on conditions and facilities in hospitals and on staff’s capacities, but also on a country’s political processes, its culture and communication. In many cases, a lot can be achieved when experts with a broad range of expertise and multiple perspectives work together to assess a situation, develop recommendations for action and help initiate response measures.’ Such measures can include training personnel, awareness-raising campaigns and developing emergency plans. 

Quick diagnostics can make all the difference

Within three days of the first mission’s arrival in Togo, the Epidemic Preparedness Team and the Togolese partners had a clear and shared understanding of the immediate support the country needed: Both the equipment and the training to enable it to detect future Lassa fever cases in country, without external support.

The BNITM has since provided Adodo Sadji’s lab with the required machinery and in mid-July, experts from the BNITM, the RKI and GIZ trained up personnel in the necessary diagnostic procedures, preparing them for a potential emergency.

The Togolese partners now feel well-prepared and are convinced that quick diagnostics can make all the difference to an effective response: The earlier suspected cases are correctly identified, the sooner steps can be taken to prevent further infections.

Further information

More information on BMZ`s contribution to epidemic preparedness

The German embassy in Togo writes about the mission

BMZ glossary

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