(L-R) Claude Meisch, Minister for Higher Education & Research; Etienne Jacqué, Vice-Chairman of the Board at LIST; Paulette Lenert, Minister of Health; Dirk Fransaer, Director General ad interim of LIST; Dr Jean-Claude Schmit, Director of Health; Credit: LIST

On Thursday 7 September 2023, Luxembourg's Ministry of Health and the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at strengthening their collaboration in the field of environmental health and scientific research.

The Ministry of Health noted in a press release that it places great importance on environmental health, as illustrated by its close collaboration with the National Health Laboratory (LNS) and the Centre Hospitalier Emile Mayrisch (CHEM) during the launch of the national environmental medicine service. This service recorded a total of 126 admissions between 17 November 2022 (the date of the first admission) and 7 July 2023 (last admission).

The Ministry of Health and LIST noted that this new MoU reflects the former's commitment to working closely with science and technology partners to promote environmental health. The MoU establishes a cooperation framework aimed at building capacity for the analysis, assessment and management of environmental risks faced by the population. It will also promote applied research in the field of environmental health, with an emphasis on the prevention of environment-related diseases. The ministry and LIST added that this collaboration will make it possible to deepen the understanding of the impacts of the environment on human health and to develop effective strategies to protect the population against environmental risks.

Moreover, this cooperation provides for the realisation of projects aimed at supporting public policies in the field of health, both at national and European level, as well as mutual support within the framework of national and international research projects.

Initially, cooperation will focus on ongoing projects in microbial epidemiology and environmental health. The first project aims to set up and operate a platform for monitoring viral pathogens in wastewater in Luxembourg. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the detection of pathogens in wastewater has become common practice to monitor infectious diseases, especially during epidemic periods. The Ministry of Health and LIST recalled that the Influenza, RSV and SARS-CoV-2 respiratory viruses continue to pose threats in terms of significant epidemic spread and potential healthcare overload. Wastewater gives an early signal when the quantity of a pathogen increases, preceding the human outbreak by several days. LIST has undertaken to set up a national monitoring platform and to provide the State with a complete summary of the results obtained from the monitoring of wastewater every two weeks. Since March 2020, this methodology has been developed and monitoring is currently continuing up to the 166th "Coronastep" report, thus using the accumulated experience to expand the monitoring system.

The second project aims at the molecular monitoring of the presence of mosquito vectors in Luxembourg. This surveillance programme will make it possible to monitor the presence of disease-carrying mosquitoes with a view to adopting adequate preventive measures. LIST will be in charge of molecular analyses on samples collected by the Directorate of Health on the sites of the Logistic Hub in Bettembourg and the Berchem Est motorway service area.

Subsequently, depending on the needs of the Ministry of Health, specific themes will be defined to further strengthen collaboration.

Like LIST, the Ministry of Health has undertaken to mutually exchange information, experiences and knowledge relating to this collaboration, while respecting confidentiality provisions. Joint projects will also be put in place, from identification to execution, and supervision and evaluation mechanisms will be implemented.

The coordinators designated by the Ministry of Health and LIST will facilitate exchanges and monitor the execution of the MoU. They are expected to play an important role in the implementation of specific actions and projects and to propose measures to make the collaboration more effective.

Luxembourg's Minister of Health, Paulette Lenert, said she was convinced of this strategic collaboration and stressed that "it could serve as a catalyst in the promotion of public health and the development of innovative solutions in the field of environmental health, and will contribute significantly to improving the health and well-being of the Luxembourg population."

Luxembourg's Minister for Higher Education and Research, Claude Meisch, added: "With its national research and innovation strategy, the government encourages research projects in specific areas with strong socio-economic potential. Indeed, research must contribute to ensuring economic diversification as well as a high standard of living, an innovative education system, better healthcare for the population and also a safe and eco-responsible environment. The signed MoU creates innovative synergies between health and environment research priorities. Therefore, I am delighted with this very promising collaboration."

"The Environmental Research and Innovation department of LIST has acquired extensive experience in monitoring pathogenic microorganisms in the environment, particularly in the context of monitoring coronavirus in wastewater during the epidemic. This type of data is of great importance for public authorities in the context of crisis management or monitoring the dynamics of infectious diseases. This collaboration will allow us to put innovative solutions developed by the department's microbiologists at the service of public authorities," concluded Lucien Hoffmann, director of the department.