The referral laboratory in Nis has started testing samples for COVID-19 thanks to the modern equipment provided by the European Union. The lab is now capable of testing up to 200 samples a day, speeding up both the collection of accurate information on the number of infections and the adoption of measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

The testing takes place at the Laboratory for bacterial zoonosis and molecular diagnostics of the Veterinary Specialist Institute Nis (VSI), engaged in the national fight against the pandemic. Upon obtaining approval from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources, and Forestry, the VSI engaged in the diagnostics of potential COVID-19 patients.

Photo: Shutterstock

The European Union made the testing at the VSI Laboratory possible by providing a substantial part of the funding through the project “Public Health,” implemented within the Cross-border Cooperation programme between Serbian and Bulgaria in 2014.

“This is an accredited laboratory with highly qualified experts and state-of-the-art equipment and the capacity that we have made greater in every aspect over the past years. This highlights the laboratory’s immense importance for the whole country,” says Director of the Veterinary Specialist Institute Nis Milos Petrovic, MD, Ph.D.

Petrovic expanded on the high level of biosecurity protection of the laboratory, stressing that the facility is entirely safe for work. Before the appearance of coronavirus, the laboratory has tested over 2,000 samples for swine flu. And this is just one of many activities the laboratory was engaged in in the previous period. As of 1 April 2020, the VSI laboratory is testing samples COVID-19 coming from three institutes of public health in south Serbia: Leskovac, Pirot, and Vranje.

“The fact that the tests are not being conducted in Belgrade certainly saves time. And this is crucial in present circumstances,” notes Petrovic.

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Thanks to EU support, VSI in Nis has, in recent years, continued to promote its capacity and its procedures, and train its staff, made up mostly of highly trained professionals.

Until days ago, Torlak Institute in Belgrade and the Institute of Public Health of Vojvodina were the only institutions in charge of testing for coronavirus. Now that the number of newly discovered infections has gone up, the testing is possible in other health institutions as well, including the veterinary institutes in Kraljevo and Novi Sad, whose work has been greatly improved thanks to EU support and donations.

The laboratory in Batajnica near Belgrade, in whose construction and equipment the EU had invested EUR7.5 million, was the first to start testing for coronavirus in early April.

Video: Robot for COVID 19 testing in National Reference Laboratory in Batajnica

About the EU in Serbia

The EU is the biggest investor, donor, and trade partner to Serbia. Since the launch of accession negotiations in 2014, the EU has donated nearly EUR2 billion in grants to Serbia in support of its modernization. For the health sector alone, the EU has, in the past two decades, provided EUR450 million in grants and loans aimed at upgrading the healthcare system and making it more resilient.