Brazil, PAHO and WHO share experiences to improve diagnosis and genomic surveillance of the COVID-19 virus

Mesa de abertura da 1ª Expolab

Brasilia, 4 May 2022 (PAHO) – Health authorities, managers, experts, and technical health surveillance teams have shared today (4) in the city of Brasilia, Brazil, experiences of 27 central public health laboratories of all Brazilian states, 13 laboratories located in border areas and 3 National Influenza Centres.

The 1st National Exhibition of Experiences of the Public Health Laboratory Network (EXPOLAB) was organized by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Marcelo Queiroga, Minister of Health of Brazil, mentioned that, at the beginning of the pandemic, the results of the RT-PCR diagnostic tests for COVID-19 used to take ten days to be ready and that, with the increase in the country's laboratory capacity, this waiting time has been reduced to hours. “The Brazilian Health System has been strengthened in a transversal way, in primary health care, in specialized health care, in surveillance actions and, today, we know that we can do much more and better thanks to what we've learned during this very hard and difficult period”, he added.

“For a strong surveillance system, we need laboratories that can quickly show what is happening in a country,” said Socorro Gross, PAHO and WHO Representative in Brazil, highlighting the importance of working together with the Ministry of Health, states and Brazilian municipalities to strengthen diagnostic and surveillance capacities at the national and sub-regional levels, including at the borders, so that the Americas region becomes increasingly strong and independent in dealing with public health challenges.

Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead at WHO, thanked the authorities and professionals for their work in increasing laboratory capacity. “The surveillance systems that you have established, have expanded, gives us the opportunity to track this virus, to understand its changes and, in a sense, guides us every single day on what we need to do to keep people safe”, she said.

“The key point shown by this event is the recognition of the importance that the public health laboratory network has in this country, which has been fully demonstrated during the course of this pandemic. This tragedy that hit Brazil and the world will bring important legacies and the strengthening of the laboratory network is one of the main ones”, stated Nereu Mansano, technical advisor of the National Council of Health Secretaries (CONASS).

Laboratory diagnosis and genomic surveillance in the context of COVID-19 have been key to guide strategies for health care, isolation of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, biosecurity, and surveillance.

Technical cooperation between countries

Even before the first reported case of COVID-19 in Latin America, the Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), the Ministry of Health of Brazil and PAHO jointly organized, in February 2020, a training for experts from nine countries on laboratory diagnosis of the then called novel coronavirus: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

“Brazil took the lead – as it always has – to carry out this workshop on the molecular diagnosis of COVID-19 when we were still in the preparedness phase, beginning our work in the Americas. In less than 20 days, we had already had the entire region of the Americas with diagnostic capacity built, and Brazil played a key role in this”, stated Jairo Méndez, regional advisor for Viral Diseases at PAHO.

The training gave rise to the COVID-19 Regional Network for Genomic Surveillance in the Americas, which contributed to the creation of diagnostic protocols, provided information for vaccine development, and facilitated broader and more agile identification of the molecular evolution and epidemiological patterns of SARS-CoV-2, including the emergence and circulation of new variants.

The technical cooperation between PAHO and the Ministry of Health also helped all the country's central public health laboratories conduct real-time RT-PCR testing for the diagnosis of COVID-19 as well as for influenza and other respiratory viruses.

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