FHI supports biosafety training in Malawi
In collaboration with the Public Health Institute of Malawi (PHIM), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) organized two short trainings of biosafety and biosecurity in the capital Lilongwe and Blantyre (the second largest city) in Malawi in November.
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The training was organized under the BIS programme (Building stronger Institutions and Systems), a long-term twinning project between PHIM and NIPH. Biosafety is one of the four main areas of collaboration demanded by PHIM in the BIS- Malawi project.
Malawi, although a poor country, has some well-equipped laboratories, and the senior staff in these labs were the targeted audience for the trainings. In a One-Health spirit, senior staff from the veterinary laboratories in Malawi and the Veterinary Institute in Norway, also participated, both among the lecturers and in the audience. Considering that the audience were themselves specialists in their own fields, Dr Siri Feruglio and Dr Tone Bjordal from the NIPH designed the training to be interactive.
The One Health perspective
Country coordinator for BIS-Malawi at the NIPH, dr. Trude Arnesen says:
"In Malawi, the One Health approach to infectious diseases really make sense. We must recognize the close interconnection between people and animals and their shared environment and work multi-disciplinary to achieve the best health outcomes."
The best example of this is rabies which is a fatal but preventable disease, and a major public health problem in Malawi. The most cost-effective way to combat the disease in humans, is to vaccinate the dogs. Vaccination given to people bitten by animals (post exposure prophylaxis (PEP)) is very costly and is strictly prioritized. It is only given to those bitten by a dog suspected of having rabies. The best way to predict the outcome is to study the dog. If the dog is still alive after 10 days, it was not rabies. Unfortunately, however, being bitten by a rabid dog often constitutes a death sentence. Since rabies is a lethal condition, health workers and lab technicians need to protect themselves when taking and handling samples, which is what “biosafety” is about.
Another example is anthrax which is sometimes is found in the animal population and then poses a danger for people close to the animals. In addition, anthrax constitutes a potential weapon for terrorism. Making sure specimens do not harm society is the essence of “biosecurity”.
A long-term collaboration
On opening the training in Blantyre, deputy director of PHIM, Mr Bitilinyu-Bangoh, said:
"I had a call from WHO the same morning asking what the country did about biosafety. I was happy to say that such trainings were currently on-going."
Mr Chiwaula, the national coordinator for biosafety and biosecurity was happy to have input from the Norwegian specialists just in time, as he finalized the national plan for biosafety in Malawi.
The director of PHIM, Dr Ben Chilima, underlined the importance of long-term collaboration between peers, be it internationally between Norway and Malawi or nationally, between peers in the human and the veterinary side. Read the full report of the training: