The Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation has officially commissioned an international-standard laboratory that will serve as a space for surveillance and diagnostics testing. This event took place at the Makeni Regional Government Hospital on the 21st of July 2022.
Given an overview of the lab Dr. Ikechukwu Ogbuanu who is the Co-Director of CHAMPS, Crown Agents said that Sierra Leone’s capacity to prevent, detect and respond to public health emergencies has been enhanced by the provision of a clinical research laboratory, which he says was made possible by funding from the United States, through the non-profit CDC Foundation. He continued to say that, Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) has equipped the new laboratory with biomedical and technological tools and furnishings including laboratory equipment, biosafety cabinets, robots designed for molecular and microbiological testing, workstations, freezers, and refrigerators.
“The laboratory has been established as a new workspace for CHAMPS and MOHS and will help to build national capacity to better understand the causes of these deaths. The generated data will in turn inform preventive actions at the policy, capacity-building, health facility, community, and family levels across the country. The laboratory is also set to enhance readiness for future pandemics and can be utilized for testing diseases such as COVID-19”. He said.
David Reimer is the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone he recalled that when they were opening the CHAMPS office in 2019, Sierra Leone had the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. But now there have been important decreases in maternal mortality in Sierra Leone, though he says the country has further to go. He said that the Ministry of Health and Sanitation uses the CHAMPS data to develop interventions and national policies to reduce child mortality. The project he says is a major contribution to capacity building in surveillance, laboratory, and, research in the country.
He stated that the US Government is proud to have funded CHAMPS during the startup period of the first 2 years and has provided leadership and technical expertise through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Since April 2018, the CHAMPS Sierra Leone site is fully funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through a multi-year agreement with Emory University so this important project can continue. The construction of the new laboratory at the Regional Hospital in Makeni is a success story of a public-private partnership between the CDC and the CDC Foundation. The laboratory provides a new and carefully designed building that will meet the needs of a modern regional level laboratory and host CHAMPS diagnostics”. He said.
It is believed that in Sierra Leone one in every 32 babies born dies within the first 28 days of life, and one in every 10 children dies before their fifth birthday. This means out of 1,150,000 children under the age of five, more than 27,000 die across the country every single year – that’s approximately one under-five death every 20 minutes. To tackle the high infant and child mortality rates in Sierra Leone, in 2017 the Ministry of Health & Sanitation (MoHS) entered into a partnership with CHAMPS to determine and track the causes of under-five mortality and stillbirths through epidemiologic surveillance. This includes post-mortem sampling (needle-based autopsies) and reporting within 24 hours of death.
Given his keynote address at the commissioning, the Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr. Austin Demby said that many people would have heard him on several occasions talking of the roadmap to Health for All in Sierra Leone, having an international standard research laboratory equipped with robots designed for molecular and microbiological testing fits squarely into this roadmap. He said that the faster and more efficiently they can detect the reasons for childhood illnesses and deaths, the more appropriate will be the quality of care and consequently their quality of life.
He spoke of how the ministry’s partnership with implementing partners, especially CHAMPS has helped the health sector in the country. “Our partnership with the CHAMPS network is already contributing to strengthening our health system towards universal health care in Sierra Leone. This includes counseling families and communities on maternal and child health and mortality prevention; strengthening the capacity of medical staff for proper diagnosis and care; facilitating improvements in the documentation and storage of clinical records and ensuring the functioning of health facilities by providing support for basic services and equipment. I’m pleased that this new laboratory will help to ensure the important work of determining and tracking causes of under-five mortality and stillbirths continues.” He said.
He ended by assuring all that they are poised to face head-on the challenges of healthcare in this country for the children and the country’s future. He said the new international standard research laboratory takes us several steps forward toward Health for all in Sierra Leone.
In her speech, the Country Director of Crown Agent Habiba Wurie spoke about their work in Sierra Leone and their partnership with CHAMPS stating that Crown Agents has been committed to improving health outcomes globally for over 100 years. In Sierra Leone, their work has included health supply chain advisory and operations including supporting logistics and supply chain operations for what was then DFID during the Ebola epidemic. Today, they continue with this tradition with the majority of their national portfolio committed to improving the health system.
Statements from the Mayor of Makeni City Her Worship, Sunkarie K. Kamar, CDC Foundation Country Director Daphne Moffett and WHO Team Lead for Laboratory Victoria Katawere all formed part of the official commissioning of the laboratory.