The Richard Lugar Public Health Research Center opened in Georgia in 2011, with funds from the U.S. Government within the framework of the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program. The purpose of the center is to promote public health through detecting and tackling outbreaks of disease. Though the construction of the center was funded by the U.S., the facility is now owned and operated by the Georgian government.
The center has been a target of Russian disinformation warfare in Georgia for the last couple of years, falsely accused of being used by the U.S.for military purposes. Misinformation campaigns included lies on how they experimented on humans, or spread dangerous viruses. Some of the false claims were investigated and proved wrong by many factchekers and media outlets, including the BBC.
Nowadays, The research center plays a vital role in Georgia’s fight against COVID-19. It supports the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) in the fight against the pandemic. From early on, they helped limit the spread of the virus by testing hundreds of people and turning results in a day.
“As leaders in the government of Georgia’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the NCDC has leveraged a wide variety of capabilities, including appropriate and judicious use of limited testing resources, as well as proactive planning and disease monitoring, reliable public messaging and coordinated communication with senior Ministry of Health officials, to inform policy decisions. U.S. partners at the Embassy, within the Department of Defense, and at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have been key enablers for these successes as long term investments in infrastructure, technology, partnership building, training /capability enhancement, and best practice adherence have paid enormous dividends throughout this epidemic,” – stated the US Embassy in Georgia.
“The Lugar Center was established to identify and address disease outbreaks just like COVID-19. We are gratified that more Georgians are learning about the important work that is performing there; we look forward to continuing that work to build the relationship between the United States and Georgia and address emerging and endemic infectious disease threats in the region,” – They added.
When the help of Lugar Center was noted and acclaimed in and outside Georgia, Russian government started yet another disinformation campaign against it. They repeatedly and falsely claimed that the lab develops “dangerous diseases” for “military purposes”.The reports were dismissed by Georgia’s Foreing Ministry, as the Deputy Foreign Minister called the statements disinformation.
It should also be mentioned that Officials from the Health Ministry’s National Center for Disease Control and Public Health said in 2018 their Russian colleagues declined an invitation to visit the lab, after Russia stepped up their misinformation campaign against the center.
The US embassy stated back then: “We’ve seen those reports in Russian media. They’re nonsense and typical of Russian misinformation and propaganda campaigns.
I note that Georgia, with German support, has organized an international “peer review compliance exercise” of the Lugar Center to be conducted in November. The Russians have declined to participate”
The visit was held on November 14-15, hosting a group of 22 experts and observers from 17 countries, at the request of the Ministry of IDPs, Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia. The peer-review exercise concluded the lab demonstrated significant transparency in their activities.
Research | Article: Keti Kavtaradze, Journalism Program, The University of Georgia