Proposed superbug lab waiting for funding

A proposed superbug super-lab for Winnipeg could be ground zero for fighting the type of hospital-acquired infections plaguing Canada’s hospitals.

WINNIPEG — A proposed superbug super-lab for Winnipeg could be ground zero for fighting the type of hospital-acquired infections plaguing Canada’s hospitals.

The Winnipeg Free Press says in a report out of Ottawa that the lab is still waiting for funding its backers were promised last year from the federal government to sort out final designs and develop a strategy for a private-public partnership.

The Level 5 Laboratory proposal has been in the works for years as an expansion to Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory.

The idea would be to build three new facilities that would focus on research for better prevention and treatment of food-borne illnesses and highly infectious diseases such as hospital-acquired infections like C. difficile.

The board for the new lab sought and received approval for a $2 million grant from Ottawa to push forward the project that would include an updated business plan, updated architectural drawings and options for financing including a public-private partnership.

A spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada acknowledged the funds were in the 2010 federal budget and the agency is still working with Treasury Board to get access.

There was no reason given for the delay.

Nearly two dozen people have died from C. difficile outbreaks in more than seven hospitals in southern Ontario since May.

The potentially fatal bacterial infection causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and is mostly spread in hospital settings from the hands of health-care workers who pick it up from touching everything from bed sheets to bedside tables.

Winnipeg microbiologist Dr. Allan Ronald, who has been on the board of proposed superbug lab and provides scientific advice, said he fears the projected cost to build the facility — $300 million — is going to kill the idea.

“I keep worrying it has been put on the shelf because of the potential cost of it,” said Ronald.

But he said that would be bad policy and very short thinking. He said for too long Canada’s health-care system has not prioritized public health promotion and disease prevention. Yet the future costs of public health problems are staggering.

“I’m discouraged about the lack of commitment to prevention,” said Ronald.

Patients with a hospital-acquired infection are twice as likely to die, 60 per cent more likely to require an intensive-care bed, remain in hospital twice as long and have six time high rates of readmission to the hospital than patients without the infection.

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