The Grand Challenge: planning for sustainable biocontainment diagnostic laboratories

Monique Eloit – Opening remarks 1600 Paris time (1500 London time)

The World Organisation for Animal Health is troubled about the sustainability of diagnostic laboratories worldwide. The issues range from labs that use too much energy and are overly complex for their environment, to difficulties maintaining equipment and accessing spare parts, to a shortage of properly trained staff. Sustainability issues arise when operational needs are not matched by available resources and when the lab’s design and management systems are not adapted to the local context.

Too often, significant investment is made in the construction of a facility but long term investments in human, technical, energy, and financial resources are not sufficient to maintain it. In a nutshell ‘many laboratories are simply not fit for purpose’.

Based on the experiences of our members and experts, as well as evidence from assessments and our laboratory twinning program, we've found that laboratories in low-income countries are struggling the most. Laboratories are a crucial part of the health system and if they can't operate sustainably, it harms the entire health system. Unsustainable labs don't perform well and can even become unsafe. The impacts go beyond animal health and can affect national security, food security, economic development, tourism, public health, trade, and people's livelihoods. Sustainability problems undermine prior investments in development. So, lab sustainability is not only an issue for WOAH and the security sector – it should be an important issue for other sectors, like public health, development, and philanthropy.

The problems are real and won't go away by themselves. Finding solutions isn't easy. Changing the way labs work is ambitious and risky, but we need to do something to make that change. To improve lab sustainability, we need decision-makers, innovators, industry and scientists to work together, to combine different kinds of expertise, and create conditions that encourage transformative change. We know there are innovative solutions that can transform labs, so the opportunities are there. But we just need to find a way to bring these solutions together, to integrate them into a system, and create an environment where they will become a reality.

We're grateful for the bold support from [Global Affairs Canada's] Weapons Threat Reduction Program and the UK's International Biosecurity Program, which has kickstarted this initiative. However, we can't do this alone, and as I already mentioned this is a real opportunity for other sectors including the security, public health, development, tourism, private sector, and philanthropic sectors. We need additional technical and investment partners to join us in taking this initiative to the next level to prevent unsustainable labs from becoming a long-term, neglected problem. Through a broader multi-sectoral partnership, we believe we can make this happen.

The World Organisation for Animal Health is troubled about the sustainability of diagnostic laboratories worldwide. The issues range from labs that use too much energy and are overly complex for their environment, to difficulties maintaining equipment and accessing spare parts, to a shortage of properly trained staff. Sustainability issues arise when operational needs are not matched by available resources and when the lab’s design and management systems are not adapted to the local context.

Too often, significant investment is made in the construction of a facility but long term investments in human, technical, energy, and financial resources are not sufficient to maintain it. In a nutshell ‘many laboratories are simply not fit for purpose’.

Based on the experiences of our members and experts, as well as evidence from assessments and our laboratory twinning program, we've found that laboratories in low-income countries are struggling the most. Laboratories are a crucial part of the health system and if they can't operate sustainably, it harms the entire health system. Unsustainable labs don't perform well and can even become unsafe. The impacts go beyond animal health and can affect national security, food security, economic development, tourism, public health, trade, and people's livelihoods. Sustainability problems undermine prior investments in development. So, lab sustainability is not only an issue for WOAH and the security sector – it should be an important issue for other sectors, like public health, development, and philanthropy.

The problems are real and won't go away by themselves. Finding solutions isn't easy. Changing the way labs work is ambitious and risky, but we need to do something to make that change. To improve lab sustainability, we need decision-makers, innovators, industry and scientists to work together, to combine different kinds of expertise, and create conditions that encourage transformative change. We know there are innovative solutions that can transform labs, so the opportunities are there. But we just need to find a way to bring these solutions together, to integrate them into a system, and create an environment where they will become a reality.

We're grateful for the bold support from [Global Affairs Canada's] Weapons Threat Reduction Program and the UK's International Biosecurity Program, which has kickstarted this initiative. However, we can't do this alone, and as I already mentioned this is a real opportunity for other sectors including the security, public health, development, tourism, private sector, and philanthropic sectors. We need additional technical and investment partners to join us in taking this initiative to the next level to prevent unsustainable labs from becoming a long-term, neglected problem. Through a broader multisectoral partnership, we believe we can make this happen.