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Training: Ifakara builds Zanzibar lab capacity in 'molecular viral diagnostics'

Aug. 12, 2020
Training: Ifakara builds Zanzibar lab capacity in 'molecular viral diagnostics'
Practice in the laboratory during the training in the Ifakara Health Institute Laboratory in Bagamoyo on July 16, 2020. PHOTO | Courtesy of Sarah Mswata

Ifakara Health Institute has trained five laboratory technologists from Zanzibar in Molecular Viral Diagnostics. Ifakara lab experts, led by Bagamoyo Lab Manager, Sarah Mswata, conducted the training in Bagamoyo, Tanzania recently.

Other trainers were: Solomon Mwakasungula, Happy Mkali, Zena Emmanuel, Grace Mwangoka, Mohammed Sasamalo, Alwissa Urassa (all from Ifakara), and Tobias Schindlier (from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute - SwissTPH).

Ifakara partnered with the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) of Tanzania through the support of USAID PREDICT project in Tanzania to deliver the eleven-day training held at the Ifakara Health Institute’s Bagamoyo Laboratory from July 13 – 17, 2020.


The USAID PREDICT project in Tanzania has worked to put One Health in action and strengthen national capacity for infectious disease prevention, surveillance, and detection since 2009. The project is based at Ifakara Health Institute and Sokoine University of Agriculture (with support from the University of California, Davis – PREDICT’s lead implementing partner).

Using the multidisciplinary, one health approach; USAID PREDICT project conducted surveillance at the human-wildlife interface to detect and characterize new and known viruses of epidemic and pandemic potential in high-risk communities and clinics.

Based on the built capacity on detection of known and novel viruses and capacity to carry out testing of the current pandemic of COVID-19; The laboratory team has prepared a training program to build capacity for the lab professionals (public health for Cohort 1) to support government effort in strengthening the detection and surveillance capabilities across both sectors, and contribute data for surveillance reporting.

Why this training now?

Ms. Mswata notes that the primary objective of the training was strengthening the Zanzibar laboratory capacity in molecular viral diagnostics. According to her, between April and May 2020, laboratory scientists from Ifakara Health Institute went to Zanzibar to assess the risk and capacity of diagnosing COVID-19 in Zanzibar laboratories. The assessment was made as part of support in fighting pandemics such as COVID19.

“In addressing some of the found challenges, the IHI lab team organized a training as a continuation of support to Zanzibar laboratories capacity building in diagnosis of viral diseases, including COVID 19 molecular diagnostics tests. The training also covered the capacity to diagnose other emerging and re-emerging viral infections of pandemic potential,” she explains.

Training participants from the two major Islands of Unguja and Pemba, “had a background on molecular biology and were laboratory personnel from the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital in Unguja and Public Health Laboratory in Pemba. The two laboratories had previously been assessed by IHI lab technologists for their capacity to conduct molecular testing, including highly infectious virus such as the SARS COV 2 virus.”

More: About the training

The training topics, for theory, included: biosafety and biosecurity; refresher training on basics of molecular biology; epidemiology of COVID 19 and diagnostics methods; sample management & cold chain storage; and introduction to One health Approach and Good Clinical Laboratory Practice (GCLP).

For practice, they covered: diagnosis of COVID19 using RT-qPCR method based on the 2 WHO recommended protocols: the Berlin protocol which and the Allplex Seegene kit protocol which the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) has procured through IHI to support the in-country testing capacity.

“The team showed high level of dedication and eagerness to learn these techniques practically as they had no prior hands on experience to the techniques,” acknowledges Ms. Mswata, adding:

“The trainees had the opportunity to learn other methods of detection of emerging & re-emergenging viruses using the PREDICT protocols… Also, the trainees got the opportunity to learn on the protocol for detection of Human Ribonuclease P (RNaseP) which is abundant in human cells as internal control for extraction and qPCR.” #

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