Following extended negotiations between the Western Cape Department of Health, University of Stellenbosch, National Health Laboratory Service and the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Germany, a new mobile diagnostic laboratory with bio safety level (BSL) 3 was unveiled in Mitchell’s Plain, Cape Town on 16 March 2011.
Premier Helen Zille, officially received the mobile unit which will operate in the rural regions of the Western Cape, functioning as a mobile diagnostic and therapy unit in support of patients with infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Instead of traveling to Cape Town, people in rural areas, especially those working in agriculture, will now have access to a facility in their region where they can be tested, receive results on the same day and be referred for treatment. In the long term, this also means that up-to-date statistics on the status of the people of the Western Cape will available. This mobile unit will also be able to assist in cases of outbreaks such as H1N1.”
During the first two weeks after its launch, the mobile laboratory will be deployed into the Overberg for at least three months.
Fraunhofer donated the mobile laboratory, valued at more than R15 million. However, the NHLS plays a very big role ongoing role in this important new health facility. Not only was the NHLS originally consulted about how to staff the lab, which equipment is necessary, evaluating the equipment and giving an indication of services that can be rendered by the mobile lab, but now it is also responsible for staffing the lab, doing the testing, servicing the equipment and procuring reagents.
The mobile lab comprises a patient area, sample storage facility, an on-board autoclave, power supply, satellite linked communications, etc. The primary function currently is HIV diagnosis and equipment therefore includes a CobasTaqman 48 for viral loads, BD FACS counter for CD4 counts and mini VIDAS for HIV antibody testing.
The official unveiling of the Western Cape mobile lab