The World Health Organization (WHO), the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and Geneva University Hospitals (HUG), yesterday formalized the designation of the University Hospital Centre for Emerging Viral Diseases as a WHO collaborating center for epidemic and pandemic diseases. The latter forms part of the long-standing partnership between HUG, UNIGE and WHO, as reflected by six joint collaborating centers. This follows its extensive work in recent years as a WHO reference laboratory for the diagnosis of COVID-19, as well as for other activities.
The Center for Emerging Viral Diseases provides unique public health expertise in Switzerland for the preparedness and response to viral epidemics and pandemics. It is equipped to carry out analysis of the most dangerous viruses for human beings.
At the forefront during the last pandemic, its interventions focus on diagnosis, clinical management and the use of specific treatments for viral infections. The center will provide WHO with technical support for clinical management and the development of recommendations.
It will contribute to the sharing and evaluation of diagnostic tools to better prepare for future epidemics. In addition, the center carries out basic and translational research aimed at improving the understanding of viral infections. The center coordinates the viral disease expertise of the Infectious Diseases Department, the Virology Laboratory, the Laboratory Medicine Department, the Vaccinology Center and the Tropical and Humanitarian Medicine Department of the HUG.
For Bertrand Levrat, CEO of the HUG, 'this new partnership further strengthens the excellent collaboration between the HUG and the WHO, which has built up over the years based on very concrete experience. It is an honor for the HUG to thus be closely associated with an essential mission of the World Health Organization.'
This designation by the WHO highlights the level of expertise of our institutions' researchers. It also represents international recognition and unparalleled visibility for our academic research."
Cem Gabay, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Genève
Center for the management of highly pathogenic viral infections
The center houses the P3 and P4D high biosafety laboratory, an essential tool for the national reference laboratories for influenza (CNRI) and emerging viruses (CRIVE). The latter benefits from the support of the Federal Office of Public Health (OFSP) and, thanks to the infrastructures of the HUG, make it possible to have the only diagnostic laboratory available 7 days a week for the entire Swiss confederation.
The center played a key role in managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland, the mpox epidemic, and is on the front line for the diagnosis of avian influenza (H5N1). It was involved in the diagnosis and clinical management of patients suffering from the Ebola virus disease in Switzerland and West Africa, as well as in the investigation of the first approved vaccine against this disease.
It is one of two centers in Switzerland authorized to take charge of patients suspected of or suffering from highly pathogenic viruses and viral haemorrhagic fevers.
The center is under the responsibility of Prof. Laurent Kaiser, head physician of the Infectious Diseases Department and Prof. Isabella Eckerle, assistant associate physician, specialist in microbiology, virology and epidemiology of infectious diseases. Both teach in the Department of Medicine of the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine.
The Center for Emerging Viral Diseases also has a basic research laboratory affiliated with the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Medicine of the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, which carries out numerous projects in cooperation with international and non-governmental organizations active in low- and middle-income countries.
The center also works on complex viral syndromes such as chronic viral infections or infections in people with immunodeficiency. One of the major areas of research relates to the laboratory assessment of the risk of new and emerging zoonotic viruses by molecular and viral methods, using specific human cell culture models, or animal reservoirs.
Field missions as part of the response to epidemics
As part of its cooperation with NGOs, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or with international organisations such as the WHO, physicians from the Center for Emerging Viral Diseases regularly take part in field missions. For example, in April 2023, one of its experts, staff physician, Dr Frédérique Jacquerioz Bausch, went on a one-month mission to Equatorial Guinea under the auspices of the WHO during an epidemic outbreak of Marburg virus disease.