New task force to strengthen diagnostic capacities for high threat pathogens

A new task force will help countries in the WHO European Region improve the detection of outbreaks caused by high-threat pathogens such as those causing influenza, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, West Nile fever, anthrax and brucellosis.

The European Regional Laboratory Task Force for High Threat Pathogens, known as the Lab Task Force, will focus on improving capacities for detection in countries considered priorities in the Region, mainly in eastern and south-eastern Europe and central Asia.

The establishment of the Lab Task Force was the focus of a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, in January 2019. The event convened 19 experts in high threat pathogen diagnostics from 14 priority countries, as well as representatives from 6 international networks and 3 WHO collaborating centres. Participants designed the scope and terms of reference of the Lab Task Force, taking into account the current laboratory preparedness and response landscape to safeguard synergies and avoid duplication in activities.

Strengthening diagnostic capacities through regional collaboration

Strong laboratory capacities are essential components of preparedness and response. International collaborative networks of public health laboratories coordinated by WHO, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and other international organizations are important platforms for sharing information and expertise. They can also provide support as a system for referral of diagnostic specimens for confirmatory testing.

Currently, laboratory networks exist mainly for end-user countries. These include the EMERGE network for an efficient response to highly dangerous pathogens at the European Union level; EVD-LabNet, a European expert laboratory network for emerging viral diseases; and the regional influenza laboratory network. However, the majority of eastern and south-eastern European and central Asian countries do not participate in these networks. The Lab Task Force was created to address this gap.

The Lab Task Force will focus on:

  • facilitating national and international coordination and knowledge transfer related to laboratory preparedness and capacity-building for high threat pathogens, including the exchange of information, data and specimens between national and international reference laboratories;
  • supporting the interaction of the countries with existing regional (European Union) and global networks;
  • identifying and addressing areas for improvement in diagnostic capacity for the European Region, including assessment of national capacity, training needs, external quality assurance, the introduction of new or improved diagnostics, biosafety, and sample referrals and shipment;
  • providing technical advice on specific projects; and
  • promoting and supporting quality and safety management implementation.

The establishment of the Lab Task Force demonstrates the commitment of countries and international partners to advancing laboratory preparedness and response to high threat pathogens through regional collaboration.