Since March 16, Kazakhstan has been living in a state of emergency. Tough quarantine measures have been introduced in the country, public transport has been suspended, most organizations and institutions have switched to a remote mode of operation, streets and residential facilities being disinfected, while COVID-positive patients receive medical care.
The state of emergency was introduced to prevent the spread of the dangerous virus in Kazakhstan. We have largely succeeded in this. The pandemic is not growing exponentially: today the number of cases does not exceed 4,000 people per population of 18 million of Kazakhstan.
In addition to quarantine, the entire healthcare system in Kazakhstan is currently working on the development of tools to counteract the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. An important element of this work is the development of a domestic test system and the formation of a batch of reagent kits for the detection of COVID-19 coronavirus by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
The Central Reference Laboratory (CRL), a branch of the National Center for Biotechnology in Almaty, jointly with the units of the National Scientific Center for Especially Dangerous Infections named after M. Aykimbayev began development of such test systems for the detection of the COVID-19 coronavirus in order to further equip subordinate institutions of the Ministry of Healthcare and create a strategic reserve in case of infection spread throughout the country.
There are a number of benefits resulting from the fact that this development is domestic: the availability of technical and consulting support, adaptation of the kits to the equipment available at the departments of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the provision of some other types of support from the developers. Thus, thanks to its own laboratory, Kazakhstan was able to develop and implement national tests.
This Central Reference Laboratory (СRL) did not appear out of thin air, and the Kazakh Scientific Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Infections named after M. Aykimbayev, which in Soviet times was created as the Almaty Anti-Plague Station, has been the basis (technical and personnel) for its creation.
It is well known that natural environmental factors affect the spread and functioning of natural foci of infections that cause human disease. Due to geological and climatic features (desert and mountainous terrain), there were and are natural foci of plague, cholera and other infectious diseases in a significant part of the territory of Kazakhstan.
In this regard, Kazakhstan needs a CRL-level laboratory to effectively counter current threats to biological safety. The construction of the CRL was started in April 2010 and completed in September 2017. It was constructed within the framework of the Executive Agreement on the Elimination of the Infrastructure of Weapons of Mass Destruction, signed by the Governments of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the United States of America on August 23, 2005.
The laboratory was built and equipped at the expense of US funds as part of a joint threat reduction program. The program is being implemented by the Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense and aimed at strengthening the non-proliferation regime of weapons of mass destruction in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and several other CIS countries.
Upon completion of the construction, the CRL was transferred by the Americans to full control of Kazakhstan. From January 1, 2020, the Laboratory has been fully funded from the budget of Kazakhstan. Today, the Central Reference Laboratory (CRL) is an international advanced research center of the third level of biological protection. The laboratory belongs to Kazakhstan and is not American. The main goal is to preserve the collection of pathogens and viruses.
The Kazakhstan’s collection of pathogens and viruses has been collected for years (one of the largest in the world). Storing these collections needs special conditions with security requirements ensured. The old building of the laboratory built during the Soviet times did not meet the requirements in terms of design and equipment. The new building resolved all these issues. It has separate laboratories, provides ventilation, the air goes through multiple filtration; all procedures are in accordance with international standards.
The laboratory’s tasks include strengthening diagnostic and research capabilities for the development and implementation of state policy in epidemiological and epizootological monitoring. Special engineering and technical personnel was trained and prepared for the maintenance of the laboratory. The staff of the CRL includes Kazakhstani specialists from subordinate organizations of three ministries: healthcare, science and education, and agriculture.
Since the CRL was established in collaboration with the United States, various speculations appear from time to time on several Russian media about the biological weapons allegedly being created at the CRL, as well as artificial coronavirus strains of the COVID-19 type, which was spread in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
In a recent official statement, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said that this is untrue due to the lack of such capabilities at the CRL. Information published in some media sources that Kazakhstani laboratory is allegedly creating a biological weapon aimed at defeating representatives of Slavic ethnic groups and peoples is a conspiracy fiction.
Controlling the epidemiological situation of infectious diseases is a matter of international importance. In this regard, the CRL in Kazakhstan is a guarantee that various infections that are especially dangerous for humans are being carefully studied and reliably contained through timely measures taken by Kazakhstani scientists. The example of the current COVID-19 pandemic proves this.