Lab Matters Winter 2019 | Page 28

MEMBERSHIP The Laboratory by the Bay: Fighting Infections in San Francisco by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer San Francisco—the endlessly scenic “City by the Bay”—is home to techies, hippies, foodies and the third largest concentration of billionaires in the world. But, while the San Francisco Public Health Laboratory serves all of the jurisdiction’s residents—nearly 900,000 people in 2017— the groups that drive most work are none of these. Instead, the laboratory focuses its services on: • Homeless people, who have higher risk for tuberculosis (TB) and sexually transmitted infections • Men who have sex with men, for whom the laboratory validated the first test for throat and anal chlamydia and gonorrhea • The 3 million or so international visitors who flock to the city each year, potentially infected with novel communicable pathogens. Overall, the laboratory performs testing on behalf of more than 40 local clinics, including eight public health clinics and an assortment of private, non-profit clinics serving various populations. The vast majority of testing supports the control of communicable diseases. Facility The laboratory occupies 7,000 square feet in a century-old Beaux Arts edifice. The facility has marble walls and floors and a place on the national registry of historic buildings. It sits in San Francisco’s (from l to r:) Dante Afable, Wilson Qiu, Victoria Olivas, Binh Phan, and Tiombe Valone get ready for a day of testing. Photo: SF PHL 26 LAB MATTERS Winter 2019 Civic Center area, across the street from City Hall and near the city opera house and symphony hall. Laboratory Director Godfred Masinde, PhD, said, “The building is really old, although beautiful. But its maintenance has become a problem, with a leaky roof and cracked walls.” Fortunately, a new facility has been already been approved and designed. The new building will add 4,000 square feet to the laboratory’s overall size, plus a dedicated BSL-3 suite to replace the current BSL-2+ suite (grandfathered for TB testing). It will be located less than two miles away, on the campus of the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, a public facility under the purview of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The move-in date is April 2021. Director Masinde, who hails from Kenya, said his public health career “was not an accident, but a reality, because I was born in a rural area of a developing country that had a lot of public health challenges like lack of clean water for drinking and cooking, no proper toilets and no sewage system.” After watching friends succumb to preventable endemic diseases—“You play with them today and tomorrow they’re dead”—he decided at an early age to pursue a career that would help him “keep my village safe from diseases like malaria.” Masinde completed BS and MS degrees at the University of Nairobi and then, sponsored by the World Health Organization, moved to New Orleans, where he earned a PhD in molecular parasitology from Tulane University. After graduation, Masinde accepted a two-year, post-doctoral position at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He then relocated to California, where he served as a senior scientist and assistant research professor at Loma Linda University and the adjacent Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “After a few years I joined ThermoFisher in Carlsbad, CA,” said Masinde. While at ThermoFisher a bioterrorism coordinator position opened at the San Bernardino Public Health Laboratory. This position, he said, “was my window into public health.” After advancing to a supervising public health microbiologist serving both the San Bernardino and Solano County Public Health Laboratories, Masinde switched gears, ramping up a new microbiology laboratory for a startup company. He said, “After a two-and-a-half-year period in Silicon Valley, a position for a public health laboratory director opened up in San Francisco City and County, and here we are today.” Masinde has been director since 2016. Staff The laboratory has a staff of 23 people, who reflect the city’s racial and ethnic diversity. “We can speak over seven languages, which include Vietnamese, Spanish, Mandarin, Swahili, Japanese and Tagalog.” Along with the 31other laboratories comprising California’s local public health laboratory system, the San Francisco laboratory now trains its own public health microbiologists, who must be certified to practice by the state of California. “In 2017 we had two technicians certified as public health microbiologists and we employed them,” said Masinde, “so we did not need to wait due to the shortage of PHM in California. In 2018, we trained three technicians and got two certified and this year two more of our technicians are in training for the next six months.” Revenue The annual laboratory budget is approximately $3.0 million, with most of that amount coming from general city funds, $128,000 from fees and the remainder from state and federal grants to the San Francisco Department of Health. PublicHealthLabs @APHL