The 18 fellows of the 2019 cohort of the GIBACHT programme (Global Partnership Initiated Academia for the Control of Health Threats) met at the BNITM for its first workshop from 8-12 April 2019. This training is part of the German Biosecurity Programme, funded by the Federal Foreign Office and led by BNITM with the partner institutions Robert Koch Institute, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and the African Field Epidemiology Network.
GIBACHT is responding to the need of countries with insufficiently prepared health systems and risk of accidental and deliberate release of infectious agents.
The GIBACHT training consists of 20 e-learning modules, three face-to-face workshops (in Hamburg, Berlin, and Kampala/Uganda), and distance-based group work to develop teaching materials (case studies). To date, 64 fellows from 19 countries have been trained.
The next meeting will take place during a second workshop at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin in July 2019.

The workshop “Introduction to Bioinformatics” took place in Kiev, Ukraine from 3rd to 7th June 2019. The workshop was conducted by the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) and implemented in partnership with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). Eight participants from two Ukrainian research institutes - State Scientific Research Institute of Laboratory Diagnostics and Veterinary and Sanitary Expertise and State Scientific Control Institute of Biotechnology and Strains - joined the workshop. 

During the workshop, the participants learned basic principles of bioinformatics covering (1) genome assembling and mapping, (2) sequence alignments, (3) basics of molecular epidemiology (phylogenetic analysis), and (4) variant calling. Lectures were supported by hands-on trainings applying the introduced methods using Galaxy (https://usegalaxy.org/), an open source, web-based platform for biomedical research.

New findings on the COVID-19 pandemic as well as on the growing spread of orthohantavirus and early summer meningoencephalitis in Germany and Kazakhstan - these were the most important topics of the two-day virtual symposium on 21. and 22. April, which was jointly organised by the Institute of Microbiology of the German Armed Forces (IMB) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. 

After the opening by the patron of the symposium, Ambassador Dr Tilo Klinner of the German Embassy in Kazakhstan and Ms Zauresh Zhumadilova of the Kazakh Ministry of Health, scientists from the IMB and the Kazakh partner institutes NSCEDI (National Scientific Center for Especially Dangerous Infections), RIBSP (Research Institute for Biosafety Problems) and NCB (National Center for Biotechnology) exchanged views on current surveys and challenges in both countries. About 100 international experts and scientists in biosafety and epidemiology attended the event. 

In both countries - Kazakhstan and Germany - there was a strong learning curve in the institutes involved in SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics, so that diagnostic capacities were quickly strengthened. In Kazakhstan, the protection of laboratory staff and the proper handling of patient samples was identified as a particular priority in order to contain chains of infection. Representatives of the Kazakh institutes reported on special measures in this regard, such as a training programme on handling suspected patients for lay doctors, paramedics and firefighters. 

Less in the media spotlight are the infection risks posed by the Orthohantavirus and TBE in both countries. Recent surveys, including those of the two Kazakh doctoral students who are funded by the German Biosecurity Programme, show a clear increase here. The Orthohantavirus pathogen is found in more and more oblasts in Kazakhstan, which can be seen in a detailed map. Unknown fever symptoms are also repeatedly found in patients in Kazakhstan. Current data may indicate the spread of TBE - an infectious disease that is also spreading in Germany and Western Europe as a result of global warming. 

The active exchange on these and other findings was made possible in particular by the fact that dubbed translation for Russian, German and English was provided by two interpreters. The online format also allowed the participation of experts from Munich, Berlin, Almaty, Nursultan, Tbilisi, the Kazakh provincial cities of Atyrau, Kyzylorda, Uralsk, Shymkent and Taldykorgan, and even Accra in Ghana.

The participants agreed that virtual symposia provide a good exchange platform to maintain joint scientific discussion despite the pandemic between the countries. Dr Toktasyn Yerubayev, Director of the Kazakh partner institute NSCEDI, emphasised that such online formats "not only promote theoretical exchange, but also provide impetus for new scientific methods and capacities" and that the German Biosecurity Programme makes an important contribution to this. "Even if virtual meetings cannot replace face-to-face networking," as Dr Lukas Peintner from the IMB admits, "they offer other advantages, such as the cost-effective participation of many experts from a wide range of countries and remote regions. 

Emerging infectious diseases are playing an increasingly important role in today's (global) world. More than half of these diseases have their origin in an animal reservoir and can be transmitted to humans as zoonotic diseases. People who depend on livestock for their livelihood and have close daily contact with their animals are particularly vulnerable. Especially regions where the livestock of local farmers can encounter wildlife can bear biosecurity hazards. Due to pasture areas often being situated on the edges or even within national parks, there is an increased likelyhood of known and unknown pathogens being transmitted from wild animals to domesticated house animals and through this also to humans. Hence, it is vital to educate people about these risks and train them on site.

In this context, the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Federal Institute for Animal Health (FLI), works in Sub-Saharan Africa in close collaboration with the Office National de Recherches et de Développement de l'Elevage (ONARDEL) from Mauritania in North West Africa, the University Njala (Department for Animal Science) from Sierra Leone in West Africa and the National Veterinary Laboratory (LANAVET) from Cameroon in Central Africa as a part of the German Biosecurity Programme. The Sub-Saharan region is characterised by a multitude of different climatic and geographical habitats, having  a significant influence on virus and vector biology. 

The main focus of the activities in the project is on strengthening biosafety and biosecurity aspects in the partner countries. This is done, for example, by shaping laboratory structures and implementing diagnostic methods on site to detect hemorrhagic fever viruses with zoonotic potential (Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) and Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV)). In addition to capacity building, another important aspect is the elucidation of epidemiological and biosecurity issues: In which areas are the viruses circulating? Which genetic variants are present? Are there certain mosquito or tick species (vectors) through which the virus is transmitted more effectively? Furthermore, the close scientific cooperation strengthens the networking possibilities of the partners.

Results are already visible: For example, the Mauritanian partners reliably recognised a Rift Valley fever outbreak last year and detected it using PCR diagnostics. Furthermore, with the help of FLI, a well-developed research network has now been established in Cameroon. These successes show that the project work of the FLI also has a lasting and sustainable positive effect on the partner countries.

One of the current goals is the introduction of the digital data management software Riems Data Net. Sample collections carried out in the respective countries have so far been individually documented by the project partners. In the past, this individual and partly analog data maintenance often led to considerable additional work and also to the loss of important information. The Riems Data Net software is now to be programmed to standardise and simplify the documentation, hereby also reducing the risk of the loss of data. It should be able to operate it directly via the mobile phone in order to enter important background information about the samples while collecting them. In addition, MinION devices are to be introduced in the partner countries for sequencing. These are small, portable devices about the size of a tablet. So far, the commonly used devices are quite expensive and also very large. In addition, the technical infrastructure required for this is presently only available in a few African countries.The MinION devices can remedy this.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness for the risks caused by zoonoses. In order to tackle these risks, the FLI welcomes the increased openness in communities for One Health approaches. 

Franziska Stoek & Ansgar Schulz

The second workshop of the fifth GIBACHT (Global Partnership Initiated Academia for the Control of Health Threats)cohort took place at the Robert Koch-Institute (RKI) in Berlin from 15-19 July 2019. The programme is led by the BNITM and implemented in partnership with the RKI, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and the African Field Epidemiology Network. Four former GIBACHT fellows from Pakistan, Ghana, Sudan, and Uganda joined us to support the workshop and share their expertise with the 18 participants from 12 countries. 

During the workshop, the participants had to apply their acquired knowledge in biosafety and biosecurity in group work, including several real-time simulations of health emergencies. These involved different aspects of outbreak investigations, the use of personal protective equipment, dealing with health communication at various levels (e.g. media, at-risk population, public), and following different leads in a biosafety/biosecurity investigation.

The third and last workshop of the current cohort will take place in Kampala /Uganda in October 2019.

German Biosecurity Programme – German-Kazakh Network for Biosafety and Biosecurity

A two days Workshop on “Biosafety and Biosecurity in field studies and highly pathogenic rodent borne infections” took place from 9 -10 October 2019 at the Anti-Plague Station (APS) in Uralsk, organized by the “German-Kazakh Network for Biosafety” in collaboration with the APS Uralsk. 

The project “German-Kazakh Network for Biosafety” is headed by the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology, Munich and is part of the “German Biosecurity Programm” launched by the Federal Foreign Office. 

The Workshop was divided into an academic part at 9th October ’19 including presentations about rodent borne infections like haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, West Nile virus infections, Borreliosis, also about molecular methods of investigation of viral agents and methods and tactics of investigation the agent vectors such as rodents, birds and ticks.

The second part at 10th October’19 included a field training in the steppe of Uralsk. In an area endemic for haemorrhagic Fever with renal syndrome. There experience was shared about bait methods, trapping and collecting of rodents. Both workshop days where awarded with a certificate. 

Das Auswärtige Amt unterstützt im Rahmen des Deutschen Biosicherheitsprogramms den wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs bei ihren Forschungsvorhaben zu biologischen Risiken. Auf dem 2. Biosafety and Biosecurity Symposium in Tiflis (Georgien), diskutierten junge und erfahrene Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus Georgien, Armenien und der Ukraine ihre Forschungsergebnisse. 

Wie lässt sich ein höheres Bewusstsein für Enzephalitis-Infektionen schaffen? Wie verbreitet ist Leptospirose in Georgien? Welche Gefahr stellt Anthrax in der Ukraine dar? Und wie kann man Biosicherheitsstandards in der Landwirtschaft fördern? Diese und viele anderen Fragen standen im Mittelpunkt des zweitätigen Symposiums, zu dem das „National Center for Disease Control and Public Health“ (NCDC) am 20. und 21. November 2019 nach Tiflis eingeladen hatte. Anlass war der Abschluss der zweiten Projektphase des Deutschen Biosicherheitsprogramms in Georgien. Seit Beginn des Biosicherheitsprojektes im Jahr 2013 arbeitet das „Institut für Mikrobiologie der Bundeswehr“ (IMB) erfolgreich mit dem NCDC in Georgien zusammen. Beide Institute werden auf operativer Ebene von der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH bei der Umsetzung des Biosicherheitsprogramms in Georgien unterstützt. Das Programm ist dabei Teil des deutschen Engagements in der globalen Partnerschaft der G7 gegen die Verbreitung von Massenvernichtungswaffen und -materialien.

Der erste Tag widmete sich den politischen Aspekten und Themen des Projektes. „Biosicherheit ist ein sehr anspruchsvolles Thema“, betonte Hubert Knirsch, der deutsche Botschafter in Tiflis, in seinen Grußworten. Er freue sich über die ertragreiche und enge Zusammenarbeit der beiden Institute.  Das Projekt stelle einen zusätzlichen Beweis der deutsch-georgischen Freundschaft dar. Herr Zaza Bokuha, stellvertretender Minister für Binnenvertriebene aus den besetzten Gebieten, Arbeit, Gesundheit und Soziales in Georgien, würdigte in seiner Ansprache ebenfalls die Wichtigkeit des Biosicherheitsprojektes für Georgien und die deutsch-georgische Zusammenarbeit. Insbesondere die Förderung junger Wissenschaftlerinnen sei von großer Bedeutung. Auch der Leiter des IMB PD Dr. Roman Wölfel und der Generaldirektor des NCDC Prof. Dr. Amiran Gamkrelidze waren sich über den Erfolg der Partnerschaft einig. Die Tatsache, dass das Biosicherheitsprogramm in Georgien um eine dritte Phase verlängert wurde, beweise den Erfolg und Wert der Kooperation.  

Im Vordergrund des zweiten Tages des Symposiums stand der wissenschaftliche Austausch. Die im Rahmen des Programms geförderten Doktoranden und Studentinnen aus Georgien präsentierten ihre Ergebnisse der vergangenen Projektphase. Die Forschungsergebnisse stellen einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Erforschung der Verbreitung und des natürlichen Vorkommens von Frühsommer-Meningoenzephalitis (FSME) und Leptospirose in Georgien dar. Ergänzt wurde die Vortragsreihe durch Präsentationen des wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses vom „Institute of Experimental and Clinical Veterinary Medicine“ (IECVM) in Kharkiv (Ukraine), die im Rahmen des Engagements des Biosicherheitsprogrammes in der Ukraine ebenfalls ein Kooperationsprojekt mit dem IMB durchführen. 

Up to now, more than 45.000 people were reported to be infected with the novel Coronavirus, of which over 1000 died as a consequence of the disease. The virus can be transmitted from person to person and has already spread to over 20 countries worldwide. In Germany, the first cases of Covid-19 (previously 2019-nCov) infections were diagnosed at the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology (IMB) (https://instmikrobiobw.de/aktuelles). 

Since 2013, the IMB collaborates with the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) in Tbilisi (Georgia) within the framework of the German Biosecurity Programme. The NCDC is the national agency responsible for health and bio-surveillance and the control of infectious diseases in Georgia. To enable our Georgian partners to diagnose Covid-19, the IMB supported with material and technical knowledge to establish the diagnostic assay at the NCDC. The scientific staff of the NCDC were able to implement the assay immediately to diagnose suspected persons. The training to establish and validate reliable diagnostics has always been an integral part of the biosecurity project in Georgia and demonstrates in this acute outbreak situation its value.

The German-Kazakh Network for Biosafety and Biosecurity project implemented by GIZ in partnership with the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology (IMB), as part of the German Biosecurity Program, held a series of online trainings on biosafety and biosecurity for more than 50 new staff members of its strategic partner Institutions - the National Scientific Center for Especially Dangerous Infections (NSCEDI) with its nine Anti Plague Stations and the Research Institute for Biosafety Problems (RIBSP) in November/December 2020.

The interactive online trainings, led by Dr. Sulushash Zhumabayeva, an experienced trainer from GIZ/Kazakhstan, and Dr. Lukas Peintner, project coordinator from IMB/Germany, enabled the participants to find answers to such questions as: How may I efficiently protect myself from extremely dangerous pathogens? How are blood borne pathogens transmitted? How do I organise a safe transport of patient specimens from the clinics to the diagnostic laboratory?

During the webinars participants addressed such topics as biosafety and biosecurity principles, personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, transmission of blood borne pathogens and the safe transport of patient specimens. In addition, hot topics, such as the current COVID19 pandemic, were also discussed and best practices were compared to the experience from the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology. 

The efforts were highly appreciated by the participants of the online trainings as well as by the management of both institutions. Dr. Toktassyn Yerubayev, Director of the NSCEDI, noted that these webinars proved to be an efficient way to build capacity of new staff members of the NSCEDI as well as those from its remote Anti Plague Stations. Dr. Abeuov, Director of the RIBSP Training Center, highlighted that the trainings were organized at a high level, held in Kazakh, and provided for enhancement of the RIBSP staff professional qualifications on issues related to biosafety and biosecurity.

Considering the global COVID 19 pandemic situation, RIBSP kindly suggested that the German-Kazakh Network for Biosafety and Biosecurity project hold biosafety and biosecurity trainings/webinars in the Kazakh language for specialists of scientific research institutes and scientific laboratories located in all regions of Kazakhstan.

The German-Kazakh Network for Biosafety and Biosecurity project believes that webinars are an efficient tool to enable cutting edge training to Kazakh scientists in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The Project envisions to offer further webinars to its partner institutions, as the knowledge and skills obtained during trainings will help the participants to more efficiently protect themselves from extremely dangerous infections, as well as to more effectively struggle the COVID 19 pandemic.