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Building Africa’s Laboratory Workforce Must Be Prioritised – ASLM Director

Since laboratory professionals play a vital role in the identification of diseases, ensuring the reliability of laboratory investigations and reporting laboratory findings to the clinicians for timely and adequate patient management; experts are advocating for new initiatives and partnerships aimed at training, mentoring and certifying laboratory professionals across the continent.

One of those making this calls is Dr. Pascale Ondoa, Director of Science and New Initiatives, African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM).  She is specifically asking that Africa’s laboratoty workforce must be prioritised.

Ondoa, who currently serves as senior laboratory scientist at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and development (AIGHD), explained that the African Society of Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) is committed to raising the profile and importance of laboratory professionals on the African continent, hence the relevance of the forthcoming ASLM conference in Abuja.

She said: “Admittedly, the only interaction that patients have with the laboratory is when their blood is drawn, or other specimens collected for testing. While the role of the laboratory professional cannot be over emphasised, unfortunately due to the public’s limited exposure to them, their value is often overlooked. We cannot deny that medical laboratories are an essential part of disease detection, control, prevention and surveillance, as well as response to outbreaks. Unfortunately, most laboratories in Africa are not only poorly resourced but also stretched, liming their capacity to operate effectively.”

Averring that the situation of a high incidence of inadequate and unqualified laboratory professionals in Africa has become a source of great concern with long-term consequences, Ondoa explained that inadequate resources and limited diagnostic services jeopardise the quality of patient care resulting from wrong diagnosis and consequent under/over treatment of the disease.  She noted that this has a negative impact on the continent both socially and economically.

“Investing in a robust, well-trained and dynamic laboratory workforce in Africa will facilitate the delivery of diagnostics services to over a billion African citizens, advancing universal health coverage and global health security,” Dr. Ondoa added.

Last year, the Coordinating Council for the Clinical Laboratory Workforce in the United States identified some of the challenges in the laboratory sector that hampered recruitment and retention efforts.  Some of these issues were: lack of visibility of the profession, low salary increases, poor wages compared with other healthcare professions and a lack of career advancement opportunities.  Sadly, Africa faces similar issues  on a much larger scale, coupled with a huge  infectious disease burden on the continent.

For any headway to be made in the laboratory medicine sector, Ondoa suggested that the conversation about changing Africa’s laboratory workforce should involve educational institutions as much as laboratory leadership and governance. “The magnitude of the current shortage of laboratory professionals and reasons for staff attrition are often not properly documented at the country level.  There are several questions that need to be addressed, such as the demand for laboratory professionals to be equivalent to the number of biomedical graduates and how they are being trained for new technologies and emerging service needs”, she said.

The viro-immunologist with years of experience in HIV also emphasized that there should be discussions around roles and responsibilities of the various categories of the laboratory workforce, requirements for each role, scope of clinical laboratory workers and the key factors affecting the development of this workforce.

“To address some of these issues, ASLM contributes to in-service and pre-service training initiatives, as well as raising awareness about the need to develop a harmonised framework for the certification of laboratory professionals. The fact of the matter is increasing the number and improving the skills of the laboratory workforce on the continent is critical, especially as the need for technology-driven health services continues to increase on the continent”, she concluded.

The African Society For Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) 2018 Conference will hold in Abuja from December 10-13, 2018. The theme of the Conference is: “Preventing and Controlling The Next Pandemic: The Role of The Laboratory”.

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