Ciheb awarded $4 million to support COVID-19 response activities

The Center for International Health, Education and Biosecurity (Ciheb) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Institute of Human Virology was awarded $4 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response activities in Botswana, Nigeria, Malawi, and Mozambique.

Low-resource regions in Africa are vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19, and Ciheb is engaged and well-positioned to build upon our partnerships with ministries of health in each country to further the understanding of the pandemic, while strengthening their capacity to monitor and control the spread of the disease."

Man E. Charurat, PhD, MHS, professor of medicine, Ciheb global director and director, Division of Epidemiology and Prevention, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine

In Nigeria, the award of $2.1 million will support a population-based epidemiological study to estimate COVID-19 prevalence in communities, household transmission, the proportion of subclinical infections, and risk factors for infection, using methods similar to the WHO Unity Studies to ensure comparability across countries. The study will be led by principal investigator, Kristen Stafford, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology and public health and Ciheb Associate Director, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine. Data generated from this study will characterize the spectrum of disease resulting from COVID-19 and provide critical information on the clinical course and outcomes of COVID-19. This information will be vital to inform local response efforts, including the development of strategies to target potential prevention and control interventions to high risk groups, develop clinical treatment guidelines to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, and strengthen the health system to respond to the pandemic. In addition, technical assistance will be provided to enhance and strengthen disease surveillance and improve laboratory diagnostics.

In Botswana, under the leadership of country director Ndwapi, Ndwapi, MD, the award of $810,000 will support the development of an influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) surveillance systems for the Botswana Ministry of Health and Wellness to capture community circulation and transmission of SARS-CoV-2. This will include establishing sentinel surveillance sites to more rapidly detect SARS-CoV-2. Other measures that will be supported include the development of a web-based surveillance data entry platform to enable real-time situational awareness, the implementation of a standardized approach to data collection and reporting for comparability across sites in Botswana and facilitating timely sharing of surveillance data between human and animal sectors to inform evidence-based planning. The funding will also support measures to facilitate social distancing and decongestion at healthcare facilities by constructing temporary consultation areas and the procurement of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

In Malawi, the award of $795,000 will enhance the Malawi Ministry of Health's laboratory capacity in five primary areas: training, quality control, supplies, services, and waste management. This initiative is led by Alash'le Abimiku, PhD, professor of medicine, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine and the executive director of the International Research Center of Excellence at the Institute of Human Virology-Nigeria. Interventions will include bench-level technical assistance and training at 10 molecular labs located across the nation to ensure technicians are skilled in implementing diagnostics for COVID-19, using both the Daan Gene Assay and the CDC COVID-19 protocol. Laboratory quality assurance will also be improved with a focus on specimen collection management and tracking, data collection and management, proficiency testing, and external quality assurance.

In Mozambique, the award of $380,000 will ensure maintenance for ABI 7500 and ABI 7900 PCR instruments installed at the National Institute of Health in Maputo Province. These instruments are used for COVID-19 diagnosis and regular maintenance is necessary to ensure accurate diagnoses. The award, also led by Alash'le Abimiku, PhD, will also provide GeneXpert operations training, support the installation of the COVID-19 software and instrument hardware, and ensure DISA-Lab operational connectivity on GeneXpert instruments at 11 locations across the nation. The award will also fund the procurement of SARS- CoV-2 diagnostic test-kits.

Additionally, Ciheb is leading cross-cutting COVID-19 response efforts in each of the eight countries in which it works. Ciheb teams are developing clinical guidelines, improving patient triage, developing and implementing clinic safety protocols, and procuring needed personal protective equipment.

"The global threat of this pandemic requires that we work cooperatively with other nations on developing and implementing targeted response actions," said Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who is also Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor, University of Maryland School of Medicine. "The School of Medicine, through Ciheb and the Institute of Human Virology, is proud to contribute its expertise to the ongoing work on the African continent supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

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