Expanding network: Togo gains National Influenza Centre

The influenza laboratory at the Institut National d’Hygiene (INH) has gained WHO recognition as a National Influenza Centre, joining the network of laboratories that form the backbone of GISRS in the African Region.

In the WHO African Region, only 13 out of the 31 laboratories that contribute influenza data to GISRS are recognized as NICs. Despite the ongoing pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, in mid-2021, following a series of trainings, assessments and ongoing support facilitated by the PIP PC, the influenza laboratory at the Institut National d’Hygiene (INH) in Lomo, Togo was recognized as an NIC. This marks a major milestone for influenza surveillance and laboratory readiness for Togo.

Setting a path for readiness

The process started in 2018 with an official request being filed by the Ministry of Health for INH to be recognized by WHO. Influenza laboratory experts from Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire then visited the laboratory to conduct a gaps and needs assessment. This assessment formed the basis for a rigorous programme of capacity building for laboratory quality management and core laboratory functions. Collaboration with experts across the region was critical for experience sharing and has expanded the network so that other laboratories in the region can initiate the process themselves and also be recognized as NICs.

Recognition during COVID-19

COVID-19 created many roadblocks for onsite engagement and for the laboratory themselves as borders were closed, restricting access to reagents and external support and the increasing COVID-19 testing burden challenged overwhelmed systems. Additionally, diagnostics capacities were heavily prioritised for COVID-19 response. However, Togo was able to maintain its influenza testing capacity with continuous support from WHO and regional experts.

After follow-up assessments in late 2020, the laboratory, having achieved its requirements received national NIC designation and recognition by WHO in 2021. This has paved the way to further enhance national capacity for influenza diagnostics and other respiratory viruses and boost the country’s laboratory network development. The efforts are already paying off with Togo’s continuous participation in the WHO’s External Quality Assessment Programme.

Togo’s participation in GISRS means that more data and more viruses are being represented in national, regional, and global risk assessments. This important achievement is a culmination of years of work and support from the PIP PC and will one day support the detection of a novel influenza virus with pandemic potential.

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