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Are public health microbiology laboratories in the European Union prepared for tracking infectious diseases? The first EULabCap report published

15 Feb 2016
EU Laboratory Capability Monitoring System (EULabCap)

​The EU Laboratory Capability (EULabCap) report on the 2013 survey concludes that, in general, the public health microbiology laboratories in the EU/EEA are well prepared for diagnosing and characterising infectious disease agents that threaten public health. These include agents of common diseases affecting Europe as well as recently emerging agents such as avian influenza virus A(H7N9), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)-, Ebola virus and rare or imported viruses (chikungunya virus, dengue virus, hantavirus, tick-borne encephalitis virus or West Nile virus). Moreover, the laboratories are well organised, networked and good at exchanging the microbiology information that is needed for risk assessment by public health authorities.

Antimicrobial drug susceptibility testing in clinical laboratories showed high levels of capability, highlighted by wide implementation of EUCAST standards and complemented by careful monitoring of transmitted antibiotic resistance by reference laboratories in the majority of EU/EEA countries. This positive finding can be related to the number of EU initiatives and global policy attention on mitigating the health threat of antimicrobial resistance. It is also a credit to professional leadership in harmonising antimicrobial testing practice for improved quality of care and surveillance.

However, there are certain areas where laboratories can improve further. Substantial gaps were noted for medical laboratory licensing and accreditation of their tests.  Both licensing and accreditation are administrative tools to ensure the reliability of test results in diagnosis and treatment of patients and for public health activities.

Furthermore, gaps were found in the provision of biosafety regulation and laboratory safety oversight which are important to ensure safe handling and containment of infectious microorganisms and hazardous biological materials to protect the staff and prevent further accidental transmission.

ECDC’s Chief Microbiologist, Marc Struelens said: ‘The survey showed that novel technology opportunities, such as use of molecular genetic typing of microbes for tracking disease transmission, is an area with limited capacity which is expected to improve substantially in the future in EU/EEA countries. As the technical platforms are becoming cheaper and more widely available, many Member States have indicated that they will use molecular typing data for better infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance surveillance in the future’.

‘The establishment of the EULabCap system presents a useful step forward in strengthening the capability and capacity of the laboratories in the EU/EEA countries. National public health authorities can learn a lot from the comparison of good practices and potential vulnerabilities in their country and across the EU.’ said Mike Catchpole, Chief Scientist at ECDC.

The EU LabCap system
EULabCap (EU Laboratory Capability Monitoring System) is a tool for assessing and monitoring the laboratory capacities and capabilities in 30 EU/EEA countries to underpin public health surveillance and assessment of risk posed by infectious disease. Furthermore, it gives an indication on the progression towards agreed upon practice standards and public health targets. This assessment aims at helping policy makers identify possible areas for action and evaluate the impact of capacity strengthening activities and health system reforms.
This report presents the indicator results of the 2013 data, and as the first report it will provide a baseline for future monitoring. The results will be published on an annual basis. The validation of the data for 2014 is currently ongoing after which it will be possible to measure the trends in system capabilities.
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