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Canada Funds State-of-art Infectious Disease Lab in Kenya

Health Minister Tony Clement cut a ribbon to open an ultra-modern, $4 million infectious disease laboratory in Nairobi on Friday, almost all of which was paid// for by the Canadian government.

The money is well spent, said Clement during the ribbon-cutting. He served as Ontario's health minister during the province's SARS crisis in 2003.

"Things can be tested here, research can be done here immediately, on the spot," Clement said. "That means we can have a quicker response as a world community to any infectious disease outbreak."

The International Centre for Infectious Diseases represents a new chapter in a 27-year collaboration between the University of Nairobi and the University of Manitoba. The lab will be able to handle highly infectious, deadly diseases such as Ebola, the Marburg virus and HIV/AIDS.

Once the equipment is in place, the facilities will be as good as any in Canada, said Dr. Frank Plummer, director of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. He was also in Nairobi for the opening.

In the 1980s, Plummer used more primitive technology for his HIV/AIDS research.

"We had a box that held our clinic supplies. We just took them back and forth every day," Plummer recalled. "And we had a car that we had to push start."

Despite the low-tech equipment, Plummer discovered an immunity to HIV among some prostitutes working in Nairobi. The discovery sparked a search for an AIDS vaccine that can now be ramped up at the African lab.

The lab is one of three such high-quality infectious disease laboratories in Africa, and the only one in east and central Africa. The region is one of the hotspots for infectious diseases on the continent.

Kenya is currently suffering an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever, a hemorrhagic fever that has killed almost 100 people. When the lab is fully functional in the next month, such outbreaks will be pinpointed earlier, in the
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