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Laboratory diagnostic trainings at NCTH and University of Colombo in Sri Lanka

In November 2019, a PCR refresher course was held during which four participants practised the fundamental steps of PCR diagnostics. Similarly, a MinION workshop was conducted at the University of Colombo (UoC). A meeting with the Vice Chancellor of UoC, Prof. Chandrika Wijeratne to present the IDEA project, and meetings with the German Embassy and with WHO on the further development of the project also took place.

As part of the Global Health Protection Programme (GHPP), a programme subsidised by the German Federal Ministry of Health (BMG), the subproject “Identification of Emerging Agents” (IDEA) also addresses diagnostics of highly pathogenic viruses in Sri Lanka. In the summer of 2018, one of the first steps comprised the establishment of a PCR diagnostics laboratory at the North Colombo Teaching Hospital (NCTH) in Ragama, Sri Lanka. After the initial trainings in October 2018 and January 2019, the next visit to Sri Lanka had to be postponed to the end of the year because of the attacks in Colombo in April 2019.

After an intensive training took place for the heads of the laboratory, Dr Dananja Nirmalie and Dr Gayani Premawansa, in April 2018, subsequent PCR trainings were conducted successfully at NCTH in October 2018 and January 2019. In November 2019, a PCR refresher course was held during which four participants were able to practise the fundamental steps of PCR diagnostics: sample extraction, preparation of the master mix and pipetting of the DNA samples. Here the emphasis was on observing the “3-room principle” and on preventing contamination.

To facilitate serologic diagnostics, the diagnostic laboratory was also equipped with a fluorescence microscope. After an introduction on the topic of serological diagnostics, four participants from the NCTH laboratory practised the application and evaluation of indirect immunofluorescence assays for the detection of different arboviruses.

Furthermore, a MinION workshop was conducted at the University of Colombo (UoC). MinION is a portable sequencing tool which performs sequencing based on changes in the electric current depending on the bases. Since the cost of acquisition is comparatively low, this system opens up new diagnostic possibilities also in developing and emerging countries. A shotgun analysis of a cowpox virus was practised during the workshop. The steps of sample preparation, sample purification, barcoding and usage of flow cells were rehearsed. In addition, evaluation by VAmpSeeker was presented and further evaluation options were discussed with the participants.

Besides this, two lectures were held at UoC, dealing with “Molecular diagnostics of viral infections” and “Sequence-based diagnostics: MinION & Illumina”. The lectures sparked interest, with around 80 students and university members attending.

In addition to meetings with the project and cooperation partners, a meeting was held with the Vice Chancellor of UoC, Prof. Chandrika Wijeratne, to present the IDEA project. In the course of the conversation, options for the continuation of the project and potential subsequent projects were discussed. The further development of the project was discussed in subsequent meetings with the German Embassy in Colombo and with WHO.

We are very grateful to a number of persons involved who have contributed to the successful trainings with much commitment and enthusiasm: Beate Becker-Ziaja (RKI, ZIG 4), Caroline Eberle (RKI, ZBS 1), Juliane Fraissinet (RKI, ZBS 1), Janine Michel (RKI, ZBS 1), Andreas Nitsche (RKI, ZBS 1), Thejanee Perera (UoC), Franziska Schwarz (RKI, ZBS 1), and Sahan Siriwardana (UoC).