A new BSL-3 laboratory arrives on the UNAM campus in Windhoek, Namibia

Capacity building is a key component in the EDCTP-funded StatinTB project. Led by the University of Namibia (UNAM), Work Package 3 ‘Capacity Building’ aims at strengthening the UNAM School of Medicine’s clinical research capacity through active collaboration and exchange of knowledge between the school and other institutions in the StatinTB consortium.

A new BSL-3 lab on the UNAM campus

Founded in 2010, the UNAM School of Medicine is a young and steadily evolving research institute. The capacity building activities carried out in the context of StatinTB play an important role in the university’s broader capacity developments.

In late January, UNAM reached a momentous milestone as a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3)​ laboratory arrived on the school’s campus in Windhoek, funded by the KfW Development Bank. Previous to this, there was only one lab in Namibia that met the requirements of a BSL-3 laboratory. While meeting high security standards, this public laboratory has not the resources for high-end research, making the new lab at UNAM even more important for Namibia’s research capacity.  

“This is a dream come true. We have long had the need for this type of lab in Namibia but getting a BSL-3 lab to UNAM seemed far out of reach until recently. Much work remains until the lab is operational, but when it is, it will help further our research and clinical trials work enormously,” says Dr Gunar Günther, StatinTB Investigator.

Positive long-term impact on UNAM’s research capacity

The ongoing pandemic has shone a light on the need for improved laboratory capacity across Africa, including in Namibia. The country carries one of the highest burdens of tuberculosis (TB) and multi-drug resistant TB in the world.

When COVID-19 began spreading across the world in 2020, the opportunity of establishing a COVID-19 laboratory for routine diagnostic testing, procedures that can be handled in a BSL-2 laboratory, at UNAM arose. Dr Günther and his college Dr Emmanuel Nepolo made the argument for a BSL-3 lab instead and managed to secure the necessary funding for this type of lab.

“Our priority was to ensure that this is a sustainable project that benefits UNAM’s research and clinical trials capacity both now and in the long run,” says Dr Günther.

The new lab is expected to be fully operational at the end of 2022

The UNAM team is currently working to procure and set up equipment in the new lab. The equipment, including culture facilities for TB, molecular diagnostics, and next-generation sequencing, will be funded by the German Government and Federal State Programme. 

The next step will be to train UNAM staff in managing and operating the lab, and it is here that StatinTB and the project’s strong focus on capacity building come into play. In the context of the project, one laboratory technologist from UNAM will travel to Johannesburg to conduct training at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

BSL-3 laboratories must follow a rigorous safety regimen. Through the StatinTB network, the UNAM team came in contact with Berenice Arendse, former head of biosecurity in all University of Cape Town BSL-3 laboratories. She is currently consulting the UNAM team on how to manage the safety of the new lab and eventually accredit it.

The goal is to have the new BSL-3 laboratory fully operational towards the end of this year.

“To get this lab up and running and later have it managed by UNAM staff will mean a giant leap forward for the UNAM School of Medicine,” says Dr Günther.