SEEG: Addressing COVID-19 with Berlin’s Charité hospital
Experts from Berlin’s Charité hospital and SEEG are supporting Latin American countries in tackling the coronavirus. Their assistance is in higher demand than ever.
For microbiologist Michael Nagel and his team, the work never stops. ‘The number of requests we’re receiving is absolutely unprecedented,’ says Nagel, who works for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. ‘At the moment, these are primarily from Africa and Latin America.’ He organises and supports assignments around the globe as a member of the German Epidemic Preparedness Team (SEEG), a group of health care experts providing equipment and knowledge on the ground in the event of infectious disease outbreaks. This week, SEEG is travelling to Peru with scientists from Berlin’s Charité hospital. Latin America is one of the pandemic’s hotspots. In addition to Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras have also contacted the team.
The experts from Germany are advising the countries and providing direct assistance locally. To this end, they transport equipment with them, such as the 800 testing kits they took to Colombia, allowing mass testing of 80,000 people. They also set up laboratories where they train medical staff to use testing kits and the other equipment they bring with them.
In addition to diagnostics, social environment plays a role in containing the pandemic. Consequently, SEEG supported employees of the local health department in Bogotá and worked with them to survey residents of one of the city’s neighbourhoods in order to gain a picture of their lifestyles.
The GIZ experts begin by dealing with logistics. For instance, the team needs to take 1,000 testing kits to Peru, which will enable mass testing of 100,000 people. Additionally, they often need to transport laboratory equipment, including large apparatus. The assistance is not limited to deliveries and training either: the experts also advise on diagnostic strategies and draft recommendations for action based on the local insights they have gained.
SEEG was set up by the German Development Ministry (BMZ) and the German Ministry of Health five years ago in response to the Ebola crisis. When a country requests German assistance in the event of acute infectious outbreaks, a core team based at GIZ consults with the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) to put together a team of experts for rapid deployment in the field. Prof. Jan Felix Drexler and his team from the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital have been part of this team since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.