The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged West African countries to strengthen the efficiency and capacity of their laboratories for the prompt detection of and response to emerging and re-emerging pathogens in the sub-region.
That, according to the Ghana Resident Representative of the WHO, Dr Francis Kasolo, would guide sub-regional and continental response and strategies.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day conference for medical laboratory scientists from West Africa in Accra yesterday, Dr Kasolo said the development of laboratory surveillance systems remained critical to healthcare delivery.
The conference, which is dubbed: “CelebrateLab West Africa Conference 2021”, is in its seventh year.
It is on the theme: “Combating emerging and re-emerging infections through standardisation of laboratory practice across West Africa”.
Participants include laboratory scientists, academics, regulators and other key stakeholders in the laboratory profession and health sciences.
They are to deliberate on key issues affecting the industry in the West African sub-region and come up with solutions to meet emerging challenges.
Among the topics being discussed are: “Balancing COVID-19 pandemic response while protecting public health gains in laboratory diagnosis of HIV, TB and malaria”, “Accreditation for public health laboratories: Meeting international standards” and “Testing times: Biomedical laboratory scientists’ role in the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The conference is beamed live via a Zoom platform due to the pandemic.
Role of lab scientists
Dr Kasolo said laboratory scientists were playing vital roles in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and, therefore, needed to be commended.
He said countries with good testing regimens were able to limit the devastating effects of the pandemic on lives and livelihoods.
According to Dr Kasolo, the emergence of COVID-19 had re-echoed the “need to address laboratories under low state capacities at all levels, as well as the decentralisation of diagnostic addressing capacities to ensure the availability of services to all persons across different geographic locations”.
He commended Ghana for increasing its COVID-19 testing laboratories from two at the initial stages of the disease to over 20 testing sites.
Dr Kasolo also said “laboratory systems should not be stand alone but seamlessly integrated into the overall health delivery system to ensure quality and timely provision of care”.
He further called for stronger collaboration between governments and the private sector to strengthen healthcare delivery systems in the sub-region and gave an assurance that the WHO would continue to provide technical support to ensure equity and quality in laboratory testing and surveillance on the continent.
In a speech read on his behalf, the Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, reiterated the government’s commitment to continue with its agenda of instituting and implementing the appropriate regulatory and policy environment needed to facilitate the provision of quality laboratory services and universal health care for the people.
“Appropriate resolutions aimed at strengthening the gaps in laboratory systems have been adopted for implementation as a way of recognising laboratory services in mainstream quality health delivery and not as a peripheral and dispensable service,” he added.
The Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, commended laboratory scientists for their tremendous role in the fight against the COVID-19 and other diseases.
He called for the deepening of collaboration among ECOWAS states, since infectious diseases could spread within the sub-region as a result of the free movement of goods and people.