As the importance of Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research, popularly known as Lugar Lab, increases in the fight against COVID-19, the pro-Kremlin media, which have exploited various conspiracy theories about the Lugar Laboratory for years now, takes efforts to diminish the importance of this diagnostic center by declaring recent positive assessments of the Lab as overrated. For example, on 12 March, the pro-Kremlin media outlet News Front Georgia published an article titled “Dim-witted UNM supporters and Lugar Laboratory” in which the author claimed that any clinic for infectious diseases could no less successfully diagnose coronavirus cases and a positive role of Lugar Lab must not be exaggerated. The same news outlet claimed in its publication of 21 March that Georgia, in reality, gets help from China, not from the USA.
News Front Georgia: “Any clinic for infectious diseases could diagnose cases of coronavirus as successfully as Lugar Lab. Our neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as our big neighbor Russia does not find it difficult to diagnose coronavirus either. Thus, putting it mildly, the positive role of the Lugar Laboratory must not be exaggerated, though the medical personnel working there needs public support in their good endeavor too. This, however, does not relate to the operation of this Lab as a whole and those doubts that exist about this institution among society and for good reason.”
News Front Georgia’s allegations about the Lugar Laboratory are unfounded because the Lab, which was built with the USD 300 million worth assistance from the USA, plays a crucial role in diagnosing coronavirus. In her comments to the Myth Detector, the manager of Lugar center, Maia Alkhazishvili, listed six reasons that make the laboratory a unique institution in the region and facilitates the fight against coronavirus:
- The laboratory’s infrastructure and logistics base are unique in the region.
- It is the only laboratory in the region with a high biosafety level (BSL 3).
- It has a genome lab.
- It is manned with highly qualified personnel.
- It is the best learning resource for interested young people.
- It serves the health of population of Georgia.
What are the advantages of Lugar Lab over other clinics?
According to Maia Alkhazishvili, state-of-the-art technologies, highly qualified personnel and new diagnostic methods ensure the readiness of the laboratory to timely respond to any new challenge.
The Lugar Lab’s flu and other respiratory diseases laboratory is accredited by the World Health Organization and acts as a reference lab. “Engagement of the reference lab always enhances in diagnosing the first wave of any new infection and once the methods are validated and verified and protocols and algorithms developed, the share of involvement of peripheral and clinical labs increases in correlation with the epidemic situation,” said Alkhazishvili and described how the task of diagnosing could be also extended to other labs at the next stage, with the Lugar Lab acting as the reference lab: periodic verification of positive cases, external quality control of labs methodical instructions and genome sequencing.
Doctor of Medicine Maia Butsashvili, specializing in infectious diseases, emphasized the following advantages of the Lugar Lab:
- A high degree of safety protection;
- A possibility to detect, diagnose and monitor infections very quickly;
- A possibility of most modern molecular diagnostics;
- Potential of conducting bio-scientific researches;
- Equipment for so-called genetic deciphering.
What are the advantages of Lugar Lab over laboratories in neighboring countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia)?
According to Maia Alkhazishvili, coronavirus can be diagnosed in neighboring countries too, but in contrast to them, the Lugar Lab has the variety of equipment as well as a genome lab that has already published in the GISAID study the genome sequencing data of COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Georgia.
As Maia Butsashvili explained, the genetic deciphering equipment “can, for example, decipher a genetic structure of microorganisms, in other words, identify what sub-type of coronavirus circulates in Georgia – something that an ordinary lab cannot identify.” The Lugar Lab has resources to compare the type circulating in our country with those circulating in other countries to identify the chain of spread of the infection and accordingly, carry out relevant researches. “The Lugar Lab has all the equipment that is necessary for conducting bio-scientific studies in the modern world,” said Butsashvili.
What does BSL 3 mean?
Along with the lab of second biosafety level (BSL-2), the Lugar Lab also has the lab of third biosafety level (BSL-3), making the Lugar Lab unique in the Caucasus region. While BSL-2 lab studies virology, serology (blood testing for antibodies, measles, hepatitis, etc.), molecular epidemiology/genome, parasitology and entomology (studying insects and their role in agriculture and human health), the National Repository of Pathogens is located in the BSL-3 zone, where brucellosis, anthrax, plague, malaria and other dangerous infections are studied. According to the Lugar Lab, “BLS-3 zone is the lab designed for many customers and it is equipped with modern special engineering equipment and alarm systems such as a ventilation system forcing air to flow in one direction, differential air pressure control system, double-door airlocks, vestibules with showers, double-door autoclaves, isolated decontamination system and adequate lab equipment.”
Prepared by Tamar Kintsurashvili and Nika Gurin
Regional network of media literacy laboratory