By Tolulope Oginni
At eHealth Africa, we aspire to operate effective laboratories that use state-of-the-art tools and technologies to collect, analyze and disseminate usable, reliable data that can help governments, stakeholders and the health system in general, to mount appropriate responses to public health threats.
The 4th conference of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) was held in Abuja, Nigeria from 10-13 December 2018. This year, the focus was on “Preventing and Controlling the Next Pandemic”. The event provided a platform for stakeholders in the international laboratory medicine community to address issues, share best practices and develop innovative approaches to combat current and emerging health threats.
Conferences are an exciting, interactive way to learn new things in any field. I was excited to attend the 2018 ASLM conference with a colleague from our Sokoto Meningitis Lab. Here are three new things I learned.
1. The need for labs to adopt External Quality Assurance (EQA) to improve their laboratory processes and performance
External quality assurance is a system for objectively checking a lab’s performance and processes by comparing it against an external agency or facility. EQA helps to identify systematic problems associated with kits and operations so that corrective action can be taken immediately. By participating in external quality assurance, training needs and capability gaps among lab staff can be identified and solved so that the lab can produce more accurate and reliable results. This is especially important for labs in Africa which are the backbones of disease surveillance and response.
2. Increasing efficiency in lab diagnosis and testing
One of the resounding themes at the 2018 conference was the need for labs across Africa to learn and adopt modern testing techniques such as Multiplexing and microfluidic assays in their operations. Multiplexing and microfluidic assays allow various investigative procedures to be simultaneously conducted on two or more analytes—chemical components of interest—using the same biological sample. By reducing the time spent preparing samples and conducting multiple tests, it boosts efficiency and reduces wastage.
3. Collaboration in public health research
At eHealth Africa, we design and partner in public health laboratory research in order to contribute to the body of knowledge and increase access to quality information in the field of laboratory and diagnostics in Africa. We are currently collaborating with the International Foundation Against Infectious Disease in Nigeria (IFAIN) and University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) on an investigative device that can increase access to sickle cell diagnostic services to low resource settings. In addition, we are collaborating with Sokoto state government to provide round-the-year laboratory-based meningitis surveillance in Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara state.
However, public health research in Africa is a field that is still largely untapped and one which requires a lot of strengthening. I was very pleased when the conference devoted an entire pre-workshop conference to Manuscript writing and research conceptualization. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to meet Professor Iruka Okeke, a professor of Microbiology whose work I have followed since my days as an undergraduate. One of the plenary sessions focused on synergizing partnerships which I believe is important for growth in this field. As one of the speakers said, “...the problem with public health research in Africa is not a lack of partners but lack of coordination of the many activities conducted by various partners.”
It is imperative that labs in Africa position themselves properly to support epidemiological surveillance systems. In West Africa especially, labs must do more to meet the standards set by their counterparts in Southern and Eastern Africa international accreditation such as ISO 15189. A large number of accredited labs in Nigeria are government-owned research labs. Work still needs to be done by privately- owned labs to attain this accreditation. In the face of emerging public health issues, now more than ever, efforts must be made to strengthen public-private partnerships and participation in laboratory medicine.