by Dr Rudi Pauwels, Serial biotech entrepreneur and Founder & President of the Praesens Foundation, Brussels
As an organisation devoted to epidemic preparedness, Praesens is committed to supporting the EU Coronavirus Global Response and the Security and Development Policy of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Interna- tional Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO).
Epidemics should be considered and treated as social, econom- ic, and global security threats, causing major loss of life, social disorder, disrupting economies and trade, impeding sustaina- ble development and jeopardising foreign relations. In this con- text, Praesens advocates for a quantum change in the world’s approach, preparedness and response to pandemics, such as Covid-19, posing existential threats to society. The growing menace of future ‘unseen’ enemies requires the adoption of
a fundamentally new mindset, one with a longer time frame, new technological tools, diagnostics and therapies all designed to better tackle these extraordinary challenges. Team Europe
is currently mobilising efforts in Africa to tackle the effects of the pandemic. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and Praesens is honoured it can count on Europe’s support in this war-like effort.
Partnerships are key
Through a partnership with the European Commission and its longtime partner, the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, they are to- gether committed to accelerate preparedness and response to Covid-19 in Africa but also implement an innovative approach to address unmet needs of diagnostics and health services through mobile laboratory platforms to detect, respond, control and prevent epidemics. It is vitally important to rein- force healthcare systems to monitor and contain possible outbreaks. Upon request of the Senegalese Ministry of Health, one of the existing Mobile Labs has been equipped with Covid-19 diagnostic testing capabilities on-board, is currently deployed in Touba, Senegal and has been actively testing patients for over three months as part of Senegal’s national response. The Mobile Labs are all-terrain truck-based, autonomous biosafety laboratories providing quality health programmes to patients. These state-of-the-art Mobile Labs bring together top-level European technologies and partners. Following the example of successful European cooperation agreements, such as the European Coal and Steel Community and AIRBUS, Praesens strongly believes in a Euro- pean Alliance for Health Diplomacy in the 21st century based on industrial and academic cooperation, with concrete, innovative and fit for purpose solutions to achieve impact in the field and, most importantly, for the patients.
A decentralised approach
Locally embedded, the fleet of Mobile Labs will complement already existing capacities with a mobile platform. The Mobile Labs can be operated in regional hubs across Africa for person- nel shifts, resupply and maintenance purposes. When suspect cases arise, they can be mobilised on a supranational level to the epicentre to help with testing, treatment and containment of the epidemic in the surrounding areas. Patients are screened in the hotzone, samples of suspected cases collected, tested and confirmed in the Mobile Lab as close as possible to the patients.
They can deliver medical (diagnostics, therapies, vaccination campaigns, etc) and non-medical (health promotion, social mo- bilisation) services at the peripheral level of the health system. The fleet will be operated by local healthcare workers, offer- ing them good biosafety conditions. Beyond addressing the infrastructure and hardware needs, it will include a complete package of training, maintenance, and as such will contribute to real capacity building efforts in-country that will last beyond the Covid-19 crisis while also addressing other highly needed health programmes like HIV, TB and Malaria.