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PTB swings into high gear

Emergency aid to COVID-19 testing facilities in the Palestinian territories

A call for help from the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian National Authority reached PTB at the end of March: Laboratory analytics to test for coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are lacking. In the project called “Supporting the national quality infrastructure” which has been implemented in the Palestinian territories since 2012 on behalf of the BMZ, 11 medical laboratories are being guided through the accreditation process stated in the ISO 15189 standard. So far, four of these have received accreditation. That is a good starting point for the requested assistance.

The representation of the Auswärtiges Amt (Federal Foreign Office) in Ramallah also requested that PTB investigate whether or not emergency assistance measures to curb the pandemic could be provided. The Ministry of Health’s request list included laboratory equipment such as real-time analytics for polymerase chain reactions (real-time PCR) and DNA extraction or safe microbiology laboratory workbenches. All the specifications were in accordance with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations for COVID-19 diagnostic tests for emergency use. The required consumables such as pipettes, virus swabs and other materials were also urgently requested. But what can we do if the world market for laboratory equipment and supplies is practically sold out and there are administrative processes besides?

A race against time began. While working from home, the availability of supplies were checked, additional funding was requested from the BMZ, the necessary forms were drafted overnight, negotiations with potential suppliers were carried out and orders were placed. At times, it was a matter of hours. Great commitment, unconventional cooperation and an extremely flexible and rapid procurement process within PTB were important elements for this crisis intervention.

Thanks to the great effort of a female staff member of PTB in Ramallah, it was possible to procure the extensive analysis and diagnostics equipment as well as the consumables exclusively from local businesses. All of the emergency measures were reported to the World Health Organization and harmonized with it. Since the beginning of May, trained laboratory staff at five medical laboratories is now analyzing samples of suspected coronavirus cases.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health thanks PTB’s International Cooperation for this fast and unbureaucratic help among friends. And everyone who participated experienced something wonderful: We really swing into high gear when our friends are in need!

Text: Saida Bunk, Martin Kaiser
Title image © Saida Bunk, 2020