A girl is vaccinated against yellow fever in Lunda North, Angola. Courtesy of WHO/Dalia Lourenço
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The disease is difficult to diagnose because it has similar symptoms as a range of other diseases, such as malaria and dengue. With more than 5,000 suspected yellow fever cases and more than 400 deaths reported in Angola and Democratic Republic of the Congo, getting an accurate diagnosis is critical to saving lives and ending the outbreak.
Reliable and timely lab results are essential for decision-making in almost all aspects of health services, especially during disease outbreaks. Diagnosing yellow fever is challenging. Often times there are delays between when the sample is collected and transported to when it is analyzed.
Diagnosing yellow fever is done by testing a blood sample to detect the virus. In later stages of the disease, this is more difficult to detect. In this case, more sophisticated blood tests (known as ELISA and PRNT) are needed and these can only be done in specialized laboratories.
In order to strengthen and fast track diagnosis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has supported the deployment of a mobile laboratory from the European Union to Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This mobile lab brings much-needed equipment and supplies for testing blood samples for yellow fever. Packaged into several boxes, the lab is portable and easy to set-up within any existing health facility or building.
The mobile lab will support the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale by providing testing capacity in Kahembe in Kwango province for a period of three months. The team, consisting of five international and two national laboratory scientists, will save critical hours by testing the samples onsite, thus reducing the need to transport them over long distances. Between 50 to 100 patients can receive their results within a day.
The European Union mobile lab is supported by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) Emergency Response Coordination Centre in collaboration with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and the Emerging and Dangerous Laboratory Network.
In addition to the mobile lab, two laboratory experts from Institut Pasteur, Paris, arrived in Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 17 to provide additional technical capacity.
In Angola, WHO has been working with the Institut Pasteur and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to train laboratory technicians at the National Public Health Institute to strengthen yellow fever diagnostic capacity. This support includes establishing the more complex blood (ELISA) test, one of the key diagnostic tools used to confirm infection with yellow fever, and training 10 national staff to run the test.
Mass reactive vaccination campaigns in Angola and Democratic Republic of the Congo have reached nearly 14.5 million people. The emergency vaccination campaigns have been crucial in slowing transmission of the outbreak.