Fields of activity

Access to diagnosis

Biological diagnosis is the first stage in providing efficient patient care, as well as playing a key role in the surveillance and control of epidemics, as the health crisis of 2020 so brutally reminded us. By reinforcing capacity for biological diagnosis, the Mérieux Foundation provides material, human and structural support, with the aim of guaranteeing a strong network of laboratories in countries with limited resources.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Mérieux Foundation has been committed to improving access to biological diagnosis, firstly in Mali and Cambodia and then in Madagascar, Laos, and, today in more than 20 countries. This area of work is the Foundation’s main activity and helps to establish high-quality laboratories, involved in diagnostic testing, surveillance for infectious diseases and the fight against antimicrobial resistance. In 2020, these laboratories proved capable of dealing with the crisis and absorbing the increase in diagnosis capacity required to deal with COVID-19.

Operational expertise in laboratory design and renovation

The Mérieux Foundation has developed solid expertise in strengthening laboratory infrastructure and is involved in many construction or renovation projects in collaboration with local authorities, associations, and national and international institutions.

As well as creating the environments needed for biological testing (infrastructure, equipment, IT systems, waste management, etc.), the Foundation focuses on developing the skills of laboratory personnel to optimize the potential of these facilities. It also supports the management and efficiency of laboratories to guarantee their autonomy and their key role in healthcare systems. The Foundation also works alongside national health authorities to contribute towards the consolidation of laboratory systems in order to maximize the impact of laboratory activities on public health.

2020, a year of acceleration

The year 2020 highlighted the key role played by biological diagnosis, as illustrated by the WHO director general’s “test, test, test” slogan at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was disrupting treatment facilities even in countries whose healthcare systems are among the most robust in the world. It was also a year in which the term PCR* test became widely used and these tests became democratized in developing countries, where their introduction was still in its infancy.

In this way, several of our projects supporting diagnostics found themselves at the heart of the fight against COVID-19 in 2020, and benefited from additional funding granted by our partners (see the article on COVID-19 on page 8). This significant effort in the name of COVID-19 also led to a general strengthening of laboratory capacity. At the same time, the Foundation’s teams made every effort to ensure the continuity of ongoing projects, including access to laboratory services to monitor people living with HIV and for tuberculosis treatment.

*PCR molecular diagnostic technique: Polymerase Chain Reaction

© Martin Grosjean

Access to biological diagnosis

Biological diagnosis projects

Myanmar

AMR surveillance

Fleming Fund Project

DRC

Container labs

Launch of laboratory activities in Goma

Senegal

DiaTROPIX

Facilitating access to high-quality diagnostic tests

Madagascar

EVAMAD

Access to HIV viral load testing and strengthening the health system

Africa

G5Sahel

Alliance for biosecurity and biosafety in Sahel

Guinea

LABOGUI

Implementation of a national medical biology policy

International

Quality Initiative

Guaranteeing reliable results from laboratory tests

West Africa

REDISSE

Regional disease surveillance systems enhancement

West Africa

RESAOLAB

The front line in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

South-East Asia

SEALAB

Construction of a network of laboratories

Haïti

SPHaitiLab

Definition of a national public health strategy

Fields of activity

Applied research

Strengthening research capacity in countries with limited resources is an essential prerequisite for implementing public health initiatives aligned with national priorities. With a strong local presence thanks to its network of partner laboratories and expertise in the field, the Mérieux Foundation supports the upgrading of infrastructures and skills.

Its objective is to ensure the autonomy and continuity of applied research structures in these countries.

The Mérieux Foundation works to facilitate and develop applied research programs in developing countries through collaborations with public and private research institutes on an international or local scale. It runs the GABRIEL network of laboratories of excellence located in infectious disease hotspots, with many members having been named as reference laboratories in their respective countries. In this respect, they play a key role in the control and surveillance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Priority for wide-reaching, long-term initiatives

Following a period of significant growth over the past ten years, and its contribution to the development of a vast network of scientific expertise, particularly through the creation of the Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratories and the GABRIEL network, the Mérieux Foundation realigned its scientific strategy in 2020 to focus on the continuity of its actions to improve access to diagnosis and those directly benefiting developing countries.

Priority is therefore given to pivotal research initiatives helping to:

  • Promote access to diagnostics and diagnostic innovation;
  • Strengthen research capacity in direct association with the most vulnerable communities;
  • Support community intervention projects with an impact on the prevention and treatment of infectious pathologies, particularly in children, in the most disadvantaged countries and communities.

This strategy illustrates the desire to decompartmentalize the Foundation’s actions and capitalize on the expertise developed around three priority areas: acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis and antimicrobial resistance.

Encouraging the autonomy of research institutions

In 2020, the Foundation also reaffirmed its desire to use local scientific ecosystems to accelerate the transfer of innovation to countries in the Global South and to strengthen research capacity in the countries in which it operates. With the closure of the Emerging Pathogens Laboratory in Lyon, the Foundation is refocusing its commitment on boosting local facilities, autonomy and new initiatives taken by Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratories and other members of the GABRIEL network.

Its technical and scientific expertise has therefore been realigned to focus on collaborative work:  close ties have been established with three academic teams working on North/South programs, who have international reputations in their respective fields (see box). These collaborations aim to capitalize on synergies in terms of expertise (the Foundation’s local expertise and the academic partners’ technical, scientific and medical expertise) in order to optimize the relevance of research programs and their impact on the health of populations.

Academic collaborations

In 2020, the Mérieux Foundation consolidated the research skills it needs to reinforce the capacity of teams in the Global South, by establishing strategic collaborations with academic researchers in three main areas:

  • Antimicrobial resistance: with a team led by Jean-Yves Madec at Anses (French national agency for food, the environment and work), a reference laboratory for the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) and the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health);
  • Tuberculosis: with a team led by Oana Dumitrescu and Florence Ader from the Hospices Civils de Lyon, with expertise in basic, translational and clinical research recognized by the international scientific community;
  • Acute respiratory infections: with a team led by Manuel Rosa-Calatrava and Bruno Lina from the VirPath laboratory (Université Claude Bernard, Lyon), a team with a reputation in pathophysiological and clinical research into respiratory infections and the analysis of new antivirals research, which is linked to the main national center for respiratory viruses.

Quarraisha Abdool Karim, 2020 winner of the Christophe Mérieux Prize

The 2020 Christophe Mérieux Prize was awarded to Quarraisha Abdool Karim for her work on the prevention and treatment of HIV in South Africa. An infectious diseases epidemiologist, Quarraisha Abdool Karim is Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA (Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa). Her research concentrates on understanding the evolution of the HIV-Aids epidemic and on prevention amongst young women, who represent 60% of people infected by the virus in South Africa. The Christophe Mérieux Prize, worth €500,000, is awarded each year to a researcher working on infectious diseases in developing countries by the Fondation Christophe et Rodolphe Mérieux. The prize winner is selected by the Institut de France based on a proposal by the Mérieux Foundation.

© Martin Grosjean

Applied research

GABRIEL network

The Foundation’s scientific and medical activities rely heavily on the international GABRIEL network (Global Approach to Biology Research, Infectious diseases and Epidemics in Low-income countries). The network is made up of laboratories of excellence in developing countries and helps to strengthen research capacity through the development of collaborative studies, technology transfer, the organization of training courses and the sharing of experience. It is also directly involved in improving surveillance and research capacity for infectious diseases with a major impact on public health.

The GABRIEL network has 20 members in 16 countries across four continents: eight Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratories (set up by the Mérieux Foundation with support from Fondation Christophe et Rodolphe Mérieux), plus public and private academic research institutes at universities and hospitals. The Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of São Paulo in Brazil joined the network in 2020. It will work closely with the Rodolphe Mérieux Laboratory in Rio Branco in the state of Acre, offering its support in the field of arboviruses.

A webinar was organized in December 2020 to cover four subjects of shared interest: how to prepare for the next epidemic, pediatric vaccination, vaccines against tuberculosis and the fight against antimicrobial resistance during a pandemic.

Encouraging international scientific collaboration

To support the structuring of the GABRIEL network around three priority areas of research (respiratory infections, antimicrobial resistance and tuberculosis) and to combine the skills of the Foundation’s “research” and “diagnostic” networks, a call for applications was launched in 2020 to finance collaborative projects involving at least three members of GABRIEL and of the West African Network Of Medical Biology Laboratories, RESAOLAB. Two projects have been selected and will be awarded seed funding of €60,000.

Support for young researchers

For the second year in succession, the Mérieux Foundation launched a call for funding applications for PhD research grants within the GABRIEL network (€15,000/year for three years). In 2020, the grant was awarded to Dalal Nour at the Microbiology, Health and Environment Laboratory at the University of Tripoli in Lebanon. Her PhD thesis is on the characterization of SARS-CoV-2 lineages circulating in the north of Lebanon.

The GABRIEL network in figures

  • 30 collaborative studies, 14 of which are still under way
  • 712 publications between 2012 and 2020, including 47 collaborative publications
  • 900 people trained (57 tutorial training sessions and 49 training workshops)
  • 7 laboratories accredited under the ISO 15189/17025 quality standard

© Mérieux Foundation

Applied research

Research projects

Tuberculosis

APRECIT: identifying the best screening strategies for latent tuberculosis

Tuberculosis

Diagnosis and management of resistant tuberculosis cases in Georgia

Tuberculosis

HINTT project: Multicentric evaluation of diagnostic tools for tuberculosis

Acute respiratory infections

NOSO-COR project: assessing the risk of nosocomial transmission of COVID-19

Other topics

THECA: evaluation of a new conjugate vaccine for typhoid

Antimicrobial resistance

TRICYCLE: detection and surveillance of bacterial resistance in Madagascar

Antimicrobial resistance

TSARA: fighting microbial resistance in hospitals

Acute respiratory infections

Lari-Rohingyas: analyzing the origins of respiratory infections in humanitarian crises

Fields of activity

Knowledge sharing

Sharing knowledge is part of the Mérieux Foundation’s DNA, with the aim of transferring expertise between all countries, promoting multidisciplinary dialog and developing new collaborations.

This area of activity saw a profound change in 2020, with the health crisis preventing us from being able to get together in person. The Mérieux Foundation adapted rapidly, so that it could continue to pursue its mission of sharing knowledge and maintaining contact despite the distance, with the help of new digital solutions and platforms.

Spreading scientific innovation is one of the driving forces behind the Mérieux Foundation’s initiatives worldwide. By organizing and participating in international conferences, training sessions and advanced courses, the Foundation promotes the exchange of expertise, the circulation of new ideas, emulation among scientists, and progress in public health to benefit the greatest number of people.

In 2020, the program of training sessions and conferences was hit hard by the health crisis. Many meetings were not able to go ahead in person, at the very time when we needed to maintain close contact with our partners in the field to be able to manage the crisis effectively. To ensure that people working in healthcare were able to stay in touch and continue their discussions despite the travel restrictions, new forms of communication were developed.

A period of transformation

Several events usually organized at the Les Pensières Center for Global Health, the Mérieux Foundation’s conference center near Annecy (France), were postponed or cancelled in 2020. Some of them went ahead in different formats: webinars, hybrid events combining in-person and remote contact, MOOCs (massive open online courses) for training sessions, etc.

The many webinars on subjects dealing with current health issues brought together international experts and allowed high-quality content to be shared with a wide audience. In total, more than 30 online or hybrid conferences were organized in 2020. Faced with epidemics and the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, the health crisis confirmed the absolute necessity of sharing and distributing knowledge and encouraging the exchange of experience between countries.

Advanced training courses

The three advanced training courses offered by the Mérieux Foundation, on vaccines (ADVAC), diagnostics (ACDx) and resistance to antibiotics (AMR), attended by dozens of participants each year at Les Pensières Center for Global Health, were cancelled and postponed to 2021. Webinars were organized instead to maintain contact and share knowledge in the context of the pandemic.

Scientific conferences

In partnership with a broad network of international experts, the Mérieux Foundation organizes scientific conferences attended by various health stakeholders to explore major topics of scientific and medical interest. In 2020, these conferences were held in the form of online webinars.

Public health initiatives

The Mérieux Foundation contributes to several global public health initiatives. By combining complementary areas of expertise and pooling public and private sector resources in different regions of the world, these partnerships play an essential role in the fight against infectious diseases.

Les Pensières Center for Global Health

Les Pensières is an international public health center run by the Mérieux Foundation, with over 40 years of experience in dialog and engagement in the fight against infectious diseases. This unique and historic location, which over the years has hosted many “virus hunters” to talk about emerging diseases and their prevention, was hit hard by the health crisis. But 2020 was put to good use to renovate the Center’s emblematic Charles Mérieux conference room. Fitted with new audiovisual equipment and a state-of-the-art video conferencing system, the Center now offers a multitude of possibilities for online, in-person, remote or hybrid events, making it possible to bring together renowned experts and people working in the field to discuss major public health issues.
© Eric Bergoend

Courses, conferences and initiatives

Scientific conferences

5th Asia Dengue Summit

Webinar held on 28 October 2020 - 150 participants

Scientific conferences

6th “One Health” Congress

Webinar held on 2 November 2020 - 100 participants

Public health initiatives

Acceptance of vaccination

Vaccine Acceptance Initiative

Advanced training courses

ACDx remote meeting

Advanced course on diagnostics

Public health initiatives

Global partnership to fight cholera

Global Task Force on Cholera Control (GTFCC)

Scientific conferences

Regional Symposium on Viral Hepatitis (Mekong Hepatitis Symposium)

Webinar held on 23 November 2020 - 60 participants

Scientific conferences

SIHI network meetings: Social Innovation in Health Initiative

Webinars held on 9 September and 7 October 2020 - 70 participants

Advanced training courses

Webinars for ADVAC alumni

Advanced course on vaccinology

Fields of activity

Mother & child programs

As part of its global health approach, the Mérieux Foundation is committed to supporting the health and well-being of vulnerable groups in the countries in which it operates. This commitment covers programs to provide access to education, hygiene, and treatment, with priority given to women and children, who are the first victims of crises and insecurity.

Since progress in healthcare depends on living conditions, the Mérieux Foundation supports local humanitarian projects helping communities of refugees and displaced or impoverished groups of people. The objective of these projects is to improve provision for primary needs, including hygiene, accommodation, and education, which are all important factors in the prevention of infectious diseases. Many campaigns are aimed at children and young people, who make a major contribution within their communities to the understanding and spread of a culture of infectious
disease prevention.

The Foundation’s work relies on its strong connections with skilled local partners and NGOs in the field, which have an in-depth understanding of the local context and the most urgent requirements. Some of these relationships go back many years, such as in Madagascar and Haiti.

These activities are mainly funded by the Fondation Christophe et Rodolphe Mérieux as part of the close partnership between the two family foundations.

Fondation Christophe et Rodolphe Mérieux

The Fondation Christophe et Rodolphe Mérieux is an independent family foundation created in 2001 under the aegis of the Institut de France. It devotes most of its resources to funding projects in
the field. It draws on the expertise and human resources of the Mérieux Foundation for the operational implementation of its projects.

Mother & child programs

Mother & child projects

Iraq

Center for Yazidi women and children

Madagascar

Fighting malnutrition

Madagascar

Health education

Madagascar

Inauguration of the Alain Mérieux high school

Mali

Support for the santé mali rhône-alpes association (SMARA)

Iraq

Opening of a school in Qaraqosh

Lebanon

Opening of the Duris health center (Bekaa valley)

Mali

Opening of the Sirakoro maternity hospital

Vietnam

Partner of Vietnam Espérance

Africa

Partnership with Samusocial

Haiti

Promoting microfinance

Mali

Science and health education

Cambodia

Support for the Enfants du Mékong association