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HomeNewsFormer chimpanzee testing lab a hidden treasure in fighting Ebola in Liberia

Former chimpanzee testing lab a hidden treasure in fighting Ebola in Liberia

Written by Sgt. Ange Desinor
13th Public Affairs Detachment

United States Africa CommandMonrovia, Liberia – What started off as a simple medical waste drop off, turned into a tour of the operations of a medical laboratory. Once a research facility, it’s now been retrofitted to accommodate testing of blood samples from patients believed to have Ebola.

Soldiers of the 36th Engineer Brigade took a tour at the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Medical Research, during Operation United Assistance mission, December 7th, Monrovia, Liberia.

Lt. Col. Kurt Schaecher, center, a Bettendorf, Iowa, native and a lab operations manager for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Disease, shows Soldiers of the 36th Engineer Brigade one of the testing kits used to test for Ebola at the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research, and how it operates during the Operation United Assistance mission, Dec. 6, 2014 Monrovia, Liberia. (Sgt. Ange Desinor, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)
Lt. Col. Kurt Schaecher, center, a Bettendorf, Iowa, native and a lab operations manager for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Disease, shows Soldiers of the 36th Engineer Brigade one of the testing kits used to test for Ebola at the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research, and how it operates during the Operation United Assistance mission, Dec. 6, 2014 Monrovia, Liberia. (Sgt. Ange Desinor, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)

“This used to be an human autoimmune virus and hepatitis vaccine research facility from a private pharmaceutical company,” said Lt. Col. Kurt Schaecher, a Bettendorf, Iowa, native and a lab operations manager for U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Disease.

The statues around the building are of chimpanzees that were used during the research back in the 70s.

“All the cages used to have chimpanzee’s in them,” said Schaecher, as he led the Soldiers around the facility.

The chimpanzees are now on a nearby island called Monkey Island. That’s where the retired chimpanzees go.

“There are at least 60 to 100 chimps down there,” said Schaecher.

Looking around and hearing about the history, Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Valdueza, a San Diego, California, native and a senior medic, was intrigued.

“I was amused by the whole compound and the history behind it,” said Valdueza. “To know that it still exists, and they test and do studies on Ebola and other diseases, really amazes me.”

Schaecher showed Soldiers the first step when potential Ebola samples come into the lab. He showed them a sheet has to be filled out and the procedures for accepting the samples.

He continued upstairs and into a room.

“We bring about 15 to 20 tough boxes with us every time we go on a mission,” said Schaecher, pointing to various boxes full of equipment. “We have groups of three that come out about every three to four weeks on a rotation. This is my second time out here.”

Safety and precautions are taken very seriously.

“Everyone here takes preventive measures when handling specimens and wear the proper gear,” said Valdueza as he looks ahead through a glass door. “The standard applies to everyone, and that makes me happy. Although I can’t get near the Ebola specimen, I at least get to see how the lab technicians handle it from a distance.”

This is a collaboration between the U.S. Army Research Institution and Infectious Disease and the National Institute of Health as well as different organizations, said Schaecher.

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