EUAM hosts webinar on training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19

October 05, 2020

Today, the EU Advisory Mission Ukraine (EUAM) hosted a webinar with a Finnish expert on how to train sniffer dogs to detect people infected with COVID-19. This innovative approach to combating the pandemic was launched in Finland last month. EUAM is now supporting Ukrainian law enforcement agencies with best practices and lessons learnt from this Finnish pilot project.

“COVID-19 represents a global challenge requiring new and innovative approaches. Using dogs to detect COVID-19 is a truly innovative initiative. EUAM is honoured to be able to facilitate this transfer of knowledge to Ukraine. This is part of EUAM’s support to assist Ukrainian partners fight the pandemic. We hope to develop this initiative in the coming months,” said Antti Hartikainen, EUAM Head of Mission. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created considerable challenges for preventing the spread of the virus, especially across international borders. While countries are struggling with various methods to detect the virus, Finland launched a pilot programme in September that uses specially trained sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19 at Helsinki airport. The coronavirus-sniffing canines have already shown excellent results in terms of accurately detecting people with active COVID-19 infections.

The sniffer dogs now working at Helsinki airport are specially trained to detect the virus’s scent in sweat samples, collected on swabs from arriving passengers. It takes only 10 seconds for a dog to detect a COVID-19-infected traveller. If positive, a passenger is invited to undergo a free PCR test at the airport’s healthcare centre.

This approach has the potential to become a cheap and highly effective way to combat the pandemic. There is no risk to the dogs and no known cases of dogs passing on COVID-19 to the handlers, according to researchers.

The Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Tetiana Kovalchuk,  underlined that the threat of the pandemic showed how important it is to mobilize our efforts, using available capabilities, as quickly as possible to ensure stability and security.

“Vulnerability of the security system caused by the pandemic makes us look for new ways to respond as well as to prevent. That is why the new experience is so important. We hope the experience of using service dogs to detect people with COVID-19 could bring us closer to solving the problem of prevention and protection of the state borders which is an integral part of stability and security”, said Tetiana Kovalchuck.

The Finnish expert in the webinar, Anna Hielm-Björkman, an adjunct Professor at the University of Helsinki, is a leading expert in using sniffer dogs to detect disease. Participants in the webinar from the Ukrainian side included the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Police, the State Border Guard Service, the Customs Service, and the Ministry of Health.

Since the start of the pandemic, EUAM has supported Ukraine with strategic advice and best practices on how to fight the spread of the virus, along with protective equipment for law enforcement agencies in different regions of Ukraine.