Transporting Samples to the Labs: A Major Challenge

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Riders for Health courier. Photograph by Tom Oldham, Riders for Health

Lab samples arrived by many different methods, including motorbikes, ambulances couriers, and in the case of Sierra Leone, helicopters. Too often in the early days of the epidemic, the lack of transportation made it difficult to get the samples to labs quickly.  Sometimes it wasn’t just about how quickly the samples reached the lab, but the state they were in when they got there—sometimes packed in coffee pots, plastic bags and glass jars. 

In Bo, CDC staff procured Airsafe transport containers, and developed an accompanying infographic to provide instructions on the proper use of the containers for users with varying levels of English literacy. These transport kits were distributed to Ebola Treatment Units and communities where suspect patients may be isolated in holding centers. This new, safer method of transport led to an agreement with the United Nations to transport these now safely-encased specimens on helicopter flights in Sierra Leone.                

CDC also worked to ensure that samples were accompanied by appropriate case investigation forms—critical to tracking samples and ensuring that results were reported properly.

The infographic below explains how to safely ship Ebola specimens.

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Produced by CDC’s Division of Creative Services

Riders for Health

Riders for Health is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that has provided health care to rural African villages using motorcycles and motorcycle ambulances since 1986. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa underscored that reliable transport is essential to a strong and far-reaching health system. In Liberia, Riders for Health set up a program with support from CDC, the CDC Foundation, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide the Liberian government with a sample transport system. Starting in April 2015, 70 motorcycle couriers across 15 different counties connected health centers to laboratories—transporting blood and sputum samples to test for the disease.

Below is a 3D scan of an outfit worn by Riders for Health couriers.

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Trunos Grison

Click below to listen to Trunos Grison describe the crucial role of Riders for Health in the outbreak.

Below is a gallery of members of the Riders for Health organization. Photographs by Tom Oldham

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Dr. Daniel Jernigan

Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division in CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, talks about his role in the agency's 2014-16 Ebola epidemic response. Dr. Jernigan served as an Ebola response team lead in Sierra Leone in late 2014 and early 2015, and then served as the incident manager in the Atlanta Emergency Operations Center during spring and summer 2015.