Mobile Laboratory Ready to Roll into Province's Rural Regions | Western Cape Government


Mobile Laboratory Ready to Roll into Province's Rural Regions

15 March 2011

Extended negotiations between the Western Cape Department of Health, University of Stellenbosch, National Health Laboratory Service and the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT), Germany, has borne fruit with the official handover ceremony of the Province's new mobile diagnostic laboratory with bio safety level (BSL-3).

Premier Helen Zille, officially received the mobile unit this morning at an official handover ceremony at Lentegeur Hospital, Mitchell's Plain.

"On behalf of the Western Cape Government, I wish to express our gratitude to the Fraunhofer Institute and the German Government for the support they have given us in the fight against HIV/Aids in the province. This mobile unit will assist our government in increasing access to HIV testing and counselling and ARV treatment to as many people as possible over the next few years. The mobile laboratory will also make a major contribution to global HIV/Aids research which will not only benefit our province but South Africa and the rest of the African continent." said Premier Helen Zille.

The handover follows the visit of the Western Cape Minister of Health, Theuns Botha, in July 2010 to the Fraunhofer IBMT in Sulzbach/Saarland, Germany, while at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, to get a first impression of the efficiency of the mobile laboratory. The mobile laboratory will shortly begin operations in the rural regions of the Western Cape functioning as a mobile diagnostic and therapy unit in support of patients with infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Theuns Botha, Western Cape Minister of Health, said: "The mobile laboratory will finally give our people in rural areas, especially those working in agriculture, access to a facility that up till now they had to travel to Cape Town for. Beneficiaries will be now tested in their region, receive the results on the same day and be referred for treatment. In the long term, this also means that up-to-date statistics on the status of the people of the Western Cape will be at our fingertips. This mobile unit, together with the world-class equipment that we have in Health Services, will also be able to assist in cases of outbreaks such as H1N1."

Minister Botha thanked the Fraunhofer delegates for their interest in the Western Cape through this donation, valued at more than R15 million.

Supported by the German Consulate in Cape Town, the project is based on a Public-Private-Partnership between the following partners: Western Cape Department of Health University of Stellenbosch National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT), Saarland, Germany.

Within the next two weeks the mobile laboratory will be deployed into the Overberg for at least three months.

Notes to Editors:
Mobile Diagnostic Laboratory Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) To reach groups at risk of HIV-1-infection and tuberculosis in rural areas of developing countries represents an enormous challenge in view of the lack of medical support infrastructure. For these groups basic medical care, medical consultations or medical diagnostic care as well as sampling exist only minimally or not at all. Often HIV-tuberculosis co-infections and resistant tuberculosis (TB) pose an increasing risk, for which adapted and optimised diagnostic and therapeutic approaches are imperative. Therefore, there is an urgent need for mobile and self-sufficient facilities, preferably including a biosafety level 3 laboratory (BSL-3) fully equipped with diagnostic and cryo-storage facilities.

Since suitably adapted vehicles barely exist anywhere in the world, the Fraunhofer IBMT has developed a mobile laboratory in conformance with German standards for mobile laboratory units and the Infection Protection Act (IfSG) at their location in Sulzbach/Saar together with a company specialising in the production of special-purpose vehicles (Bischoff & Scheck Fahrzeugtechnik GmbH & Co. KG).

Fraunhofer IBMT's first mobile BSL-3 laboratory with its diagnostic unit was licensed in 2009 for field and public road operation. It does not require electricity, water or sewage connections. Its 65 kW self-sufficient power supply with its 1,000 litre diesel fuel tank supplies the required electricity. Hydraulic adjustments on the vehicle are geared to level off the vehicle in any terrain, thus considering all factors for a secure and failure free operation. The operation is done from a central location of the vehicle via a user friendly interface of the vehicle control system.

A medically equipped admission and treatment unit offers the doctor and his nurse as well as his patient's comfortable and suitable surroundings. The samples taken will be analysed in the BSL-3 laboratory unit which is accessible through a hermetic gate, thus, guaranteeing gradual negative pressure between all rooms.

The basic equipment of the laboratory is designed to treat HIV and TB patients. However, the setup of the systems is designed for easy interchange of devices as required and deemed necessary. An expansion to malaria or other germs is possible.

The general design of the laboratory includes two class II biological safety cabinets as well as an extremely user-friendly pass-through autoclave equipped with vacuum steam sterilisation for adequate and secure disposal of germ waste. The laboratory is being converted into a mobile cryo-bank through its 300 l nitrogen tank aboard which, through deep-freezing of the samples, insures the safe transport on public roads.

Through its flexible assembly the laboratory is designed for utilisation in different countries and regions worldwide. The standardised semi-trailer allows the shipment as sea freight at low rates. The tractor can be hired locally for any missions if necessary. For the international deployment of the BSL-3 laboratory as well as for standard utilisation great care was applied to the equipment of the laboratory concerning the necessary technical service support in most countries. The integrated communication devices (i.e., satellite telephone) guarantee the monitoring and the remote control of the semi-trailer. The data thereof is available online.

Jointly issued by:

Western Cape Department of Health, Fraunhofer IBMT, University of Stellenbosch & National Health Laboratory Service

Media Enquiries: 

Hélène Rossouw
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Western Cape Ministry of Health
Tel: 021 483 4426
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