Within a very short period, the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has spread from China across the entire planet. The world was not fully prepared for this pandemic. Test kits and breathing masks are scarce, and there is a lack of laboratory staff and health professionals with sufficient training.
The coronavirus crisis has once again proven that dangerous infectious diseases repeatedly break out all over the world. However, it is virtually impossible to predict when and where it will happen. If it occurs and it is not detected rapidly or if action is not taken quickly, there can be serious consequences. People fall ill or die, the health system is put under unnecessary strain, and previously achieved successes in the development of the country are ruined. Sometimes, other countries are affected. There were similar situations due to Ebola fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Plague in Madagascar, Lassa fever in Nigeria, Dengue fever in Sri Lanka and Zika in Latin America.
In order to quickly detect and effectively contain outbreaks of infectious diseases, what is needed the most are comprehensive and sensitive outbreak detection systems, well-equipped, functional laboratories and health care facilities, and trained and committed specialist staff.
German development cooperation partner countries are better prepared to detect, diagnose and contain disease outbreaks that otherwise may develop into epidemics or even pandemics.
The German Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG) supports German development cooperation partner countries and partner organisations in preparing for and responding to disease outbreaks – at short notice, flexibly, professionally, and around the globe.
Following the devastating Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the German Federal Government wanted to be able to respond to health crises more effectively on an international scale. In order to assist in this field, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) joined forces with the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) to initiate SEEG in 2015.
In the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, SEEG procures test kits and laboratory materials for various countries and trains laboratory and health care staff to identify suspected cases and examine samples. The sooner and the more people with the COVID-19 respiratory disease are detected, the faster and better the chains of infection can be broken – and as a result, the outbreak can be contained locally and ultimately worldwide.
Here are some other examples of SEEG’s work: In Sri Lanka, SEEG has provided laboratories with equipment and trained personnel to improve dengue diagnostics. In Peru, SEEG has trained laboratory technicians to test pregnant women for the Zika virus using a new detection system because the pathogen can damage unborn children. In Sierra Leone, SEEG has prepared the health system for Lassa fever outbreaks by employing a ‘train the trainer’ strategy. SEEG has also carried out several assignments to prevent and combat Ebola fever.
In order to capitalise on synergies and make profitable use of existing expertise, the specialist institutes the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) as well as the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH are cooperating in this project. This enables SEEG to assemble the appropriate team for each assignment. If necessary, experts from other institutions, such as the public health service or Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, provide support.
In addition, SEEG coordinates with the World Health Organization (WHO) and exchanges information with non-governmental organisations. This ensures that valuable experience is pooled and used.
GIZ has been active in its partner countries for decades. The trust that has grown in the process and the knowledge of the conditions on the ground help to quickly identify and address possible weaknesses together with the partners in difficult situations such as the outbreak of disease. This ensures that existing services are not duplicated by the numerous organisations specialising in emergency assistance and crisis intervention.
SEEG’s work helps in two ways: on the one hand, it improves the current situation regarding the respective outbreak on the ground; on the other hand, it supports health system strengthening in the affected country on a sustainable basis and to achieve universal health coverage. In this process, SEEG’s work is always integrated into existing structures. This makes sure the project has a positive impact both in the short and long term.
At the same time, the countries of assignment receive support both in achieving the sustainability goals of the 2030 Agenda and in developing the core capacities for implementing the International Health Regulations. In this way, SEEG helps prevent an outbreak of disease from becoming an epidemic or even a pandemic. This, in turn, contributes to health security – both in the country of assignment and worldwide.