Ethiopia’s National Influenza Laboratory (EPHI) has been recognized as a World Health Organization (WHO) National Influenza Center (NIC). A WHO team led by the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) Lead, a technical specialist from the WHO Regional Office for Africa, and a laboratory coordinator from the WHO Ethiopia Country Office conducted the on-site assessment for its evaluation. After assessing its status against the WHO NIC Terms of Reference, the assessment mission recognized the National Influenza Centre as a full member of the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS). The assessment’s recommendations will assist the country and the center by identifying, prioritizing, and carrying out capacity-building activities such as training. It will also be useful for advocating for funds, supplies, and other resources to meet the National Influenza Center’s needs.
The Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) was established in 1952 to protect people from the threat of influenza by collaborating with different nations in sharing data and research. WHO currently recognizes 155 institutions in 125 countries as part of the GISRS, including Ethiopia’s National Influenza Centre. The WHO Regional Office for Africa has been assisting in strengthening influenza surveillance in several African countries since 2016. Ethiopia has benefited from this assistance, establishing sentinel sites throughout the country for influenza epidemiological and virological surveillance. GISRS-member centers help research by collecting specimens in their respective countries, isolating viruses, and conducting preliminary antigenic characterization, then shipping isolated strains to regions where WHO centers exist for further antigenic and genetic analysis.
The Ethiopian National Influenza Laboratory was founded in 2008 with the goal of serving as a virology lab for influenza and other respiratory viruses. In 2018, the Biosafety Level 2 (BSL 2) facility was exclusively designated as an EPHI influenza center. The Lab was the first national laboratory to process COVID-19 specimens when the first pandemic wave hit. The laboratory has also participated in the WHO GISRS External Quality Assurance Project on the detection of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses by PCR on a regular basis, with good results. The laboratory continues to produce and share regular influenza surveillance data reports with WHO, which are published in the bi-weekly influenza update. National influenza centers in the WHO African Region play an important role in national influenza surveillance by contributing to the implementation of the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework and International Health Regulations (IHR). The extensive years of support ENIL have provided for global influenza control were a factor in WHO’s decision to include ENIL in the WHO global influenza surveillance network.