Strong biosafety and biosecurity practices are an integral part of any laboratory system. PHE’s IHR Strengthening Project, through multiple scoping visits to the National Health Laboratory (NHL) in Myanmar, identified areas to strengthen. Traditionally, laboratory-based technical assistance including training is delivered face-to-face in-country. However, the COVID-19 pandemic gave the IHR team an insight into the importance of working flexibly and having the ability to support laboratories remotely to strengthen practices in response to an ongoing outbreak and to build on existing work.
In accordance with international best practice, infectious pathogens must be handled and processed inside a Biosafety Cabinet (BSC); however, BSCs only provide operator protection when used correctly. Therefore, PHE’S Novel and Dangerous Pathogen (NADP) training team developed an e-learning course aimed towards international scientist and laboratory staff working containment level 2 laboratories handling potentially infectious material within a Class II BSC.
The course is delivered as a series of interactive slides including videos, photos, a small quiz at the end of each section and a more comprehensive final multiple-choice assessment at the end of the course. The course lasts about one hour, and it can be paused and resumed over multiple sessions if needed. Tracked personalized access allows the trainer to monitor progress, results and frequency of access. The latest version of the course is compatible with all the newest browsers, smartphones and tablets.
The BSCII course covers essential features of safe working practices such as;
The course was offered to 35 laboratory workers in Myanmar across two reference laboratories (National Health Laboratory and Department of Medical Research). All participants successfully completed the course and were given an e-learning completion certificate. An average of 85% of users found the course useful, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic with one user reporting ‘all facts in the course are essential for COVID-19 Diagnosis’. Additionally, users reported that the explanation of the airflow in the biosafety cabinet with video representation was ‘crucial’ to their learning.
When asked what changes the participants would make to their working practice as a result of the e-learning course, the majority reported;
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of having the capacity to adapt our ways of working. Although safe working practices in the laboratory are best taught practically, in particular the handling of high consequence pathogens, this e-learning course provided an excellent alternative to hands-on training. In the era of COVID-19, laboratory workers should be followed-up remotely where possible to ensure learned working practices via e-learning are implemented in practice where possible. As there is a strong interest in this training format, more collaborative work needs to be done with in-country partners to develop further bespoke training to fit the needs of the scientists in Myanmar.