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Antibiotic resistance: Inside MSF's innovative Mini-Lab Project

01 Feb 23 | 04 Sep 23

Antibiotic resistance: Inside MSF's innovative Mini-Lab Project

In a complex medical emergency, fast and effective laboratory support is vital to saving lives. This is no different in a humanitarian crisis.

Now, the Mini-Lab Project has developed a solution to help medical staff working in places with limited resources as they face a dangerous and growing problem: antibiotic resistance.

Established by Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the project team have designed and built a mobile clinical bacteriology lab that is affordable, transportable and able to provide all-in-one support to the places where MSF works.

Once set up, a Mini-Lab team can identify the exact bacteria causing a patient's infection as well as the antibiotics it is resistant to – ultimately saving lives from otherwise deadly or debilitating conditions.

The Mini-Lab, explained:

  • The Mini-Lab is transported in just six boxes that are impact-resistant and designed to be moved via truck or plane
  • It takes two days to set up and requires only 20 square metres of space
  • The unit includes lab machines and equipment, documentation and training tools as well as IT and data management resources
  • Each box transforms into a bench that has integrated lighting and is resistant to heat and corrosion
  • The Mini-Lab can process up to 20 samples per day
  • It is staffed by one supervisor and two technicians with remote support from a team in Paris

First tested in Haiti in 2020, the Mini-Lab is now being used in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

MSF is also planning for the concept to be made available to other healthcare organisations working in similar humanitarian environments.

At MSF's out-patient department in Batil refugee camp Gandhi Pant, a nurse, escorts a patient with a possible appendicitis to a waiting ambulance. 

Batil is one of three camps in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State sheltering at least 113,000 refugees who have crossed the border from Blue Nile state to escape fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLM-North armed group. Refugees arrive at the camp with harrowing stories of being bombed out of their homes, or having their villages burned. The camps into which they have poured are on a vast floodplain, leaving many tents flooded and refugees vulnerable to disease. Mortality rates in Batil camp are at emergency levels, malnutrition rates are more than five times above emergency thresholds, and diarrhea and malarial cases are rising.

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