Georgian National Center for Disease Control
and Public Health Partnership
The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR)-US Army Medical Research Directorate-Georgia (USAMRD-G) has been NCDC’s close partner and collaborator since 2010. This partnership has been critical to the development of public health capability in Georgia with an emphasis on training, infrastructure sustainment and epidemiological research into endemic and antimicrobial resistant infections to inform global health security efforts. WRAIR and NCDC have worked together closely for over a decade to develop the Lugar Center as a regionally and internationally recognized public health research laboratory. In recent years, WRAIR has also partnered with national institutions and universities to develop and support the next generation of Georgian leaders in the health sciences and physicians building medical and research capacity.
USAMRD-G has consistently supported public health capability development in Georgia, providing future leaders within the Georgian academic and scientific communities with opportunities for international collaboration and education. Some of the Directorate’s earliest activities in Georgia included the planning, development, and execution of numerous training courses in clinical microbiology and tropical medicine targeting both laboratory and medical professionals. These courses directly elevated the proficiency and capability of Georgian national clinical, laboratory and public health professionals to mitigate endemic and emerging disease threats in the region. In 2016, WRAIR initiated a student internship program at the Lugar Center for 4th year medical students from Tbilisi State Medical University. Through a highly competitive selection process, students were selected to attend a 4-8 week laboratory research experience to develop and hone pathogen recognition skills. Since 2019, USAMRD-G has partnered with the San Diego State University (SDSU)-Georgia and Tbilisi State University (TSU) to offer undergraduate students in the TSU biochemistry program a unique hands-on introduction to tools and techniques used in microbiology research to identify and characterize infectious disease pathogens. In aggregate, these initiatives have been important in developing a cohort of public health professionals capable and poised to lead future advances in infectious disease research and development.  

In 2015, NCDC and WRAIR signed a memorandum of understanding to formalize the partnership between these institutions. As part of this agreement, WRAIR agreed to provide significant financial support to help NCDC sustain the highest standards in laboratory quality control, security, and facility maintenance at the Lugar Center. The importance of this long term investment in compliance with international standards has been validated recently with Georgia’s successful campaign to combat public health challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent cluster of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever cases.   
Programmatically, USAMRD-G and NCDC have partnered to implement several mutually beneficial infectious disease biosurveillance projects, including an acute febrile illness (AFI) surveillance study at the Lugar Center and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) studies at the Kutaisi and Batumi Zonal Diagnostic Laboratories (ZDLs). These efforts have been critical in sustaining vigilance against emerging regional pathogens.
WRAIR has also invested significant time and resources into teaching, training and mentoring NCDC personnel in medical entomology. Efforts have included training on appropriate field collection methods to surveil for the presence of mosquito, tick, and sand fly vectors as well as morphological assessment techniques in the laboratory to appreciate local species diversity. USAMRD-G team members have collaborated on scores of surveillance trips in recent years across Georgia. Future planned partnerships include cooperation on the development of local pathogen detection capability to better appreciate circulating pathogens of public health significance in Georgia. 

In 2015, USAMRD-G led a multi-institute effort to establish the first “Georgian Association for Laboratory Animal Science” (“GALAS”). This organization serves as a professional forum for scientists, veterinarians, and technicians in establishing Georgian standards for the care and use of research animals and harmonizing these standards with those of the international public health research community. USAMRD-G provided selected and compiled sections of multiple resources translated into a 488-page Georgian course handbook.

More recently, as the COVID-19 pandemic limited the Directorate’s ability to host in person experiences for students in the Lugar Center, WRAIR personnel have been very involved in reaching out to students to conduct Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives cultivating an appreciation for the sciences in Georgia’s future academicians and leaders. All of these educational outreach and internship initiatives reflect the US Government’s commitment to capability development in the health sciences in Georgia and reinforce bilateral partnership to advance global health initiatives.

WRAIR partnered extensively with NCDC to counter the COVID-19 pandemic threat, leveraging expertise and capabilities in diagnostics and logistics.