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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
The JRC-developed control material was shipped to the Johannesburg airport for distribution to the South African laboratories that are reference centres for COVID-19 in the country.
In support of the global efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the JRC has shipped samples of the control material developed in its laboratories in Geel, Belgium, to the South African capital.
The representatives of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) Division of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of South Africa received the material at the Johannesburg airport.
The EU’s Ambassador to South Africa, Dr Riina Kionka, said: "As the pandemic sweeps across South Africa it is critical for medical staff, policy makers and the public at large to be able to fully rely on test data to facilitate timely interventions and action. This small, but hugely useful contribution to South Africa’s efforts to manage the spread of the disease is an expression of our Strategic Partnership."
Dr Kionka continued: "The sending of this material follows last week’s EU-SA Ministerial exchange at which Covid-19 framed discussions on how the EU and more broadly Team Europe could, and in fact, are supporting South Africa at this time."
Professor Wendy Stevens, Director of National Priority Programmes at the National Health Laboratory Service responded: "This has been an extraordinary time in history for laboratory testing in South Africa. Assay validations for Covid-19 and the rapid implementation of testing platforms thereafter, have had to be conducted at an unprecedented speed. The complexity of molecular testing is frequently not understood and thus the provision of standardised quality control material by colleagues from the EU is both timeous and will provide us with much-needed reassurance that we are not releasing poor quality assays into the field."
Against the backdrop of South Africa’s strategic science and innovation partnership with the EU, Minister Blade Nzimande had a fruitful discussion with EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel last week on several initiatives to deepen cooperation, incl. as part of the AU-EU joint response to Covid-19.
Minister Nzimande also participated in the AU-EU High-Level Policy Dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation held on 16 July, which discussed cooperation initiatives, including with the Joint Research Centre, responding to COVID-19.
The Department of Science and Innovation has noted that the donation of the material by the Joint Research Centre was greatly appreciated and evidence of the solidarity and friendship enabled by science diplomacy between South Africa and Europe.
From Johannesburg, the control material will be distributed to 22 national laboratories all over the country. It will enable to carry out thousands of controls to ensure the efficiency of the COVID-19 tests used in South Africa.
The JRC covered all costs of the operation, including the production and shipping expenses.
In March, at the peak of COVID-19 outbreak, JRC scientists designed a new control material to help prevent coronavirus test failures.
Laboratories can use the control material to check the correct functioning of their tests and to avoid false negatives.
By the end of June, the JRC control material had been sent to 188 laboratories, research centres and hospitals in 41 countries, including most EU Member States and the countries of the Western Balkans region.
Even if most of the samples were sent to partners within the EU, the JRC has started sharing it with non-EU laboratories.