Lyon, Tuesday October 8, 2019 – An Antonov airplane hired specially by the Mérieux Foundation will take off from the Lyon-Saint Exupery airport (France) on Wednesday October 9. Three container laboratories have been loaded onto the aircraft to bolster efforts to control the Ebola virus disease epidemic. Their final destination is Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On July 19, Alain Mérieux received an alert from Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, appointed by the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to coordinate the national response to the Ebola epidemic. Professor Muyembe described the emergency situation his country faced. He was particularly insistent about the crucial need for a laboratory to improve diagnostic capacities in Goma, the country’s third largest city, located in the region bordering Uganda and Rwanda.
Race against the clock
By the end of July, the Mérieux Foundation had decided to do everything in its power to respond to this emergency. Its own teams and the teams at IMeBIO got to work and two months later, three containers were ready to be shipped.
The shipment includes a biosafety 2 (BSL2) level diagnostic container laboratory, a BSL3 level container laboratory, and a refrigeration unit to store reagents.
These “plug & play” container laboratories, manufactured by the Grenoble-based company IMeBIO, are particularly well-adapted to complex, challenging situations on the ground. They are equipped with advanced technologies that comply with the most stringent international quality, biosafety and biosecurity standards. This equipment is essential to perform reliable and rapid diagnostic tests and to ensure biological monitoring of patients. In epidemic situations, access to diagnostics is critical to identify individuals who have been infected and direct them to treatment centers, which helps to control the epidemic.
The containers are being transported from Grenoble to the Lyon-Saint Exupery airport and loaded onto a large cargo aircraft during the afternoon of October 8. In the early hours of October 9, the Antonov airplane will take off for Kigali, Rwanda, where the containers will be unloaded and transported by truck to Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A secure site is essential to install the laboratories. Once they have been set up, the necessary equipment and lab consumables will be sent in the days that follow. The container laboratories will be delivered and donated to the National Institute for Biomedical Research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, directed by Professor Muyembe, and his teams will operate the units. In addition to serving in the short term to respond to the Ebola epidemic, in the long term they will help strengthen the country’s diagnostic and surveillance capacities, and can be used during outbreaks of other infectious diseases.
A separate mobile laboratory is also being loaded onto the airplane on October 8, as part of a pan-European partnership between the Mérieux Foundation and the Praesens Foundation, in conjunction with Africa CDC (Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). This private Belgian foundation’s truck-based mobile laboratory will complement the container laboratories, making it possible to travel into remote, difficult-to-reach areas to collect samples and perform preliminary screening tests.
Taking action and forming exceptional partnerships
In addition to the remarkable efforts by teams from the Mérieux Foundation and IMeBIO, both in France, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this operation –which represents a total budget of €2 million– also received logistics support from Bioport and the Lyon Airport, which have extensive experience in transport for humanitarian actions.
“This operation makes me feel especially gratified and proud. Working with our partners, we were able to win this race against the clock. Our foundation has upheld its commitment to fighting infectious diseases that strike the poorest regions of the globe – a commitment that we translate into action on the ground, with our local partners and friends,” said Alain Mérieux, President of the Mérieux Foundation. “As the Global Fund’s Replenishment Conference is about to open tomorrow in Lyon, this initiative is emblematic of the new international partnerships that are absolutely necessary to combat infectious diseases, in particular during epidemics, when time is of the essence, in an approach that must be planetary and long term. I would like to pay tribute to the responsiveness and commitment of the teams of all our partners, especially the company, IMeBIO, and the Bioport association,” he added.
Professor Muyembe, Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Research in the DRC, stated: “The donation of modern laboratories to Goma by the Mérieux Foundation comes just at the right time to help stop this epidemic and strengthen the health system in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
Jean-François Jung, Chief Executive Officer of IMeBIO added, “The challenge entrusted to us by the Mérieux Foundation, highlighted the importance of making laboratory solutions available that can be adapted and deployed in container form anywhere in the world to effectively protect medical teams fighting infectious diseases in emergency situations. The level of this health emergency has mobilized all our teams and partners to make the laboratories available as quickly as possible.”
Dr. Rudi Pauwels, Founder and President of the Praesens Foundation, stated: “We are proud and grateful for our partnership with the Mérieux Foundation in this project to strengthen local capacities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and hope that this marks the beginning of a lasting alliance. Common values, complementary skills and concern for vulnerable populations unite us in this fight against infectious diseases that calls for a participatory approach.”
“After the Ebola operation in 2014, Bioport's teams are making all their expertise available to the Mérieux Foundation and its partners to successfully deliver this long-awaited laboratory to the field to provide quality diagnosis under the best conditions,” declared Benoit Miribel, President of Bioport.
Tanguy Bertolus, Chairman of the Lyon Airports Management Board stated: “VINCI Airports' teams in Lyon are proud to be associated with this exceptional initiative alongside the Mérieux Foundation, by mobilizing all the expertise of the operators of Cargoport, the airport's freight zone. About ten similar flights have already been carried out from our airport. In these exceptional situations, chartered cargo flights are the best solution for transporting freight to its final destination: in addition to the appropriate infrastructure, the responsiveness, availability and expertise of Cargoport-based operators ensure the success of this type of initiative, often conditioned by emergency situations.”