The laboratory building lies near the international airport in Tbilisi.

TBILISI, DFWatch–The government in Georgia has decided to change the ownership of the Richard G Lugar Public Health Research Center in Tbilisi.

The liquidation process is to take three months and the center’s property will be handed over to the National Center of Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

The decree to liquidate the research center is dated May 7. Amiran Gamkrelidze, Head of the Center, says that the government’s decree only concerns the legal status of the research center.

The Central Public Health Reference Laboratory was created by a decision of the previous government on July 25, 2011, a project financed by the United States’ government and overseen by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

This is the largest US investment in Georgia for the latest ten years and has led to the construction of a network of laboratories under both the health and agriculture ministries. Ten laboratories are subordinated to the health ministry, out of which three are laboratories of the second level, and seven of them the first level.

Eleven laboratories are under the Ministry of Agriculture. The Central Reference Laboratory, which is of the highest level, was opened in 2011 and the government’s new decree concerns this laboratory.

According to the decree, representatives of the ministries and the director of the research center will be in a liquidation commission, which will prepare proposals for how to include the laboratory of the Richard G Lugar Center under the structure of the NCDC while keeping the name of Richard G Lugar. The commission should also prepare a strategy for the development of the NCDC and five-year action plan.

The decree is signed by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and is already in force, but one point in the decree, which abolishes a decree dated July 25, 2011, about creating the laboratory, will not be enforced until three months from now.

NCDC director Amiran Gamkrelidze says the government’s liquidation decree is only about the legal status of the Richard G Lugar Research Center.

He explains that the main purpose of this network of laboratories is to fight dangerous human and animal infections; to monitor public health and animal health issues, and diagnose and take appropriate measures. But he added that the Lugar center hasn’t been functioning for the last two years.

So, after studying the problem, the laboratory’s supervisory board and representatives of the United States decided that the best option is if the laboratory merges with the NCDC, as the latter has the most experience and best staff for fighting severe infections, he said.

“Both the Georgian and the American party agreed with this and the government issued an appropriate decree,” he explained.

But the problem is that the research center and the NCDC have different legal status, therefore the decision in this decree wouldn’t have been possible to fulfill, so it was decided to change the legal status of the laboratory through liquidation.

This doesn’t mean that the laboratory will be sold off and neither will it change its profile. It will keep its old name but will be merged with the NCDC and will have a multi-sector supervisory board chaired by the Health Ministry.

“This laboratory with its potential is unique in the region. There is opportunity to conduct serious scientific research there, where Georgia will be the leading party, but a space will be allocated for US Centers for Disease Control, the so-called Walter Reed’s Scientific Research Institute, and US and European universities, because there is an opportunity to observe different types of infections, unique opportunities for diagnostic, which has never existed in the region,” Gamkrelidze underlined.