Guidelines for Transporting Covid-19 Samples to Reference Laboratories
The World Health Organization has developed a mechanism for transporting clinical samples from suspected coronavirus patients residing in countries that lack specialized Covid-19 laboratories and testing capacity.
Local shipping agents working with WHO-approved couriers provide assistance to laboratories in completing export documentation, arranging sample collection, and providing all forms, labelling, and packaging under international transport regulations. This mechanism for transporting hazardous goods and biological substances is similar to the Shipping Fund Project and Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System.
Services Offered by Reference Laboratories
WHO-approved reference laboratories support efforts toward capacity building in middle- and lower-income countries so that local laboratories provide testing services. They also monitor the virus for any mutations and changes that can help develop effective antiviral medications and therapies, vaccines, and diagnostic tests. Participating laboratories also work on the development of infectivity tests post-recovery, specialize in antigenic characterizations, and develop molecular assays. With regard to Covid-19, they only use the collected samples to characterize, identify, and detect the pathogen.
Forms to Complete
Laboratories must complete a booking form and provide details such as person to be contacted, place of delivery and place of pick-up, and details of shipment. They must specify whether the sample involves an infectious substance affecting humans, is category B substance, or is exempt. Temperature conditions must also be indicated, whether dry ice, icepacks, or there are specific requirements. The form also includes recommended shipment temperature and temperature for storage of different types of specimen as well as expected duration of shipment for the respective specimen types. These include nasopharyngeal aspirate, whole blood, serum, urine, oropharyngeal and nasopharyngeal swab, etc.
In addition to the completed form, laboratories sending samples are asked to provide a house airway bill, import permit issued by the recipient state and export permit granted by the country of origin, and invoice or packing list. The packing list includes details such as value and weight of the contents, number of packages, and recipient’s address.
Where to Ship
Reference laboratories are found in different cities around the world, including Rotterdam, Rio de Janeiro, Nagasaki, Paris, London, and Hong Kong. The shipping costs are covered by the World Health Organization provided that the instructions are strictly followed.
Packing Instructions for Covid-19 Samples
Packing is subject to Category B – UN 3373/Instructions P650 which apply to diagnostic specimens. The UN uses 4 numbers to designate biological and infectious substances – UN3291 – Clinical waste, UN2900 – Infectious substances affecting animals, UN2814 – Infectious substances affecting humans, and UN3373 – Diagnostic substances. Covid-19 samples fall in the last category for the purpose of packaging and labelling and include tissues, blood components and blood, excreta, other samples.
Before shipping, the primary receptacle must be placed in secondary packaging so that the contents do not leak or break. Outer packaging fitted with cushioning material is also used. Frozen or refrigerated specimens are transported with dry ice, ice, or liquid nitrogen. All shipments must display UN 3373 Diagnostic Specimen.