Under the East Africa Public Health Laboratory Networking Project, diagnostic capacity has been strengthened through the construction of state of the art laboratories. © Miriam Schneidman / World Bank Group 2018
My interest in public health began in childhood and was marked by my experiences growing up in a low-income country with limited public health infrastructure. I felt firsthand the impact of an inadequate public health system when a beloved cousin succumbed to AIDS. My mother suffered a prolonged, resistant infection with complications after invasive surgery, and my family constantly battled malaria due to drug resistance or counterfeit drugs.
The quest for an accurate, timely and affordable medical diagnosis remains elusive in many developing countries. In East Africa, laboratories are often poorly staffed; ill-equipped; and lack quality systems. Obsolete equipment clogs up limited space. Clinicians often resort to presumptive diagnoses rather than requesting lab confirmations. Individuals suffering from infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, run the risk of going undetected and transmitting the disease to others, or being misdiagnosed, which in turn leads to compromised care and higher health care costs.
Many laboratories are not adequately prepared to respond during public health emergencies, yet their services are critical to detecting new pathogens and containing disease outbreaks.
World Laboratory Accreditation Day, observed recently, offers a good opportunity to draw attention to the critical role of laboratories in health, and the importance of accreditation in promoting quality. Accurate and reliable laboratory services are critical for conducting clinical diagnosis, guiding treatment, and responding to disease outbreaks. There’s a growing recognition of the importance of laboratory services, and several important initiatives have been launched, including the WHO-AFRO Stepwise Laboratory Improvement Process towards Accreditation (SLIPTA).