JOHANNESBURG, South Africa –
Members of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) recently participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating completion of a construction project of the Regional Diagnostic Demonstration Center (RDDC) or “Training Center” at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg, Dec. 9.
The renovations were part of a larger, global effort between DTRA, the NICD and the African Union Center for Disease Control (Africa CDC). DTRA provided the design plans and physical renovations to the training center while the NICD contributed the land, human capital expertise and the laboratory equipment. The Africa CDC recently designated the Training Center as the “Regional Center of Excellence for Biosafety and Biosecurity” and has already begun developing regional and continent-wide certification programs at the Training Center.
The genesis for the RDDC follows the NICD’s deployment of their mobile laboratory unit to Sierra Leone during the West African Ebola outbreak eight years ago.
“When Ebola reared its ugly head in 2014, and the world lacked personnel and equipment to assist, it was South Africa who was quick to mobilize from the NCID,” said Dr. Reuben Brigety II, the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa. “However, these health teams had not yet experienced working in environments that required extensive personal protective equipment. You can imagine the challenges those health care workers faced trying to manipulate equipment, maintain full visibility while physically taxed and stressed, all while wearing a suit to protect from the dangerous airborne pathogens,” said Brigety.
As a result of the outbreak, African stakeholders such as the Africa CDC identified gaps and vulnerabilities and developed plans to strengthen zoonotic disease response on the continent. By 2015, DTRA partnered with South Africa to enable their commitment to strengthening laboratory capacity on the continent and prevent future zoonotic disease outbreaks.
Dr. Robert Pope, Director of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program under DTRA, said South Africa is a regional leader and global partner in improving human and animal health security.
“Renovating the Regional Diagnostic Demonstration Center has truly been a partnership that depended on commitment from multiple stakeholders,” said Pope. “We applaud the robust partnership among the various institutions and agencies throughout this country and look forward to future opportunities to partner with you in strengthening global health security,” he said.
The Training Center is currently operational and has conducted more than 16 different training courses since January of 2022 for both South African and other regional audiences. Courses at the Training Center include topics from biorisk management to risk and hazard communication, to preparing South Africa to respond to outbreaks on the continent.
“This center represents what success looks like when two great nations collaborate together,” said Brigety. “It’s a center like no other, where academic and hands-on training occur simultaneous, and has an international impact,” he said.
South Africa has been a top-priority partner for DTRA’s Biological Threat Reduction Program, and the program strives to support South Africa as a regional leader, promoting best practices in disease surveillance and biosafety and biosecurity.
For more information on DTRA’s Biological Threat Reduction Program in South Africa and other regions around the world, visit www.dtra.mil.