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Better Labs, Better Health Care in Africa

  • Joe DeCapua

A new organization aims to sharply improve the quality of African laboratories, allowing health professionals to better track, treat and test for diseases. It’s called the African Society for Laboratory Medicine, or ASLM.

A new organization aims to sharply improve the quality of African laboratories, allowing health professionals to better track, treat and test for diseases.

It’s called the African Society for Laboratory Medicine, or ASLM.

“It’s basically an independent, not-for-profit entity that is organized on the continent of Africa to focus on the growing demand for really high quality medical and research laboratories throughout Africa,” says Dr. Blair Holladay, executive vice-president of the American Society for Clinical Pathology. The ASCP has helped train many African lab technicians.

“The laboratory serves as 70 percent of the information that’s used for a patient to be treated for disease. So without a laboratory or without the infrastructure set-up, over 70 percent of diseases cannot be treated effectively and/or even treated. So patients go untreated,” he says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. John Nkengasong, director of its laboratory program, started efforts to form the ASLM about a year and a half ago. Now, many policymakers, health and lab professionals, African ministers and international officials are involved.

Holladay says, “That Pan-African society is a body that works for Africa to address the lack of laboratory bodies in Africa and helping for the advancement and the needs for the workforce of the laboratory system, so we can strengthen and lead to a better systematic standardization in African laboratories.”

Holladay says African lab workers will be trained on the latest techniques and equipment. They in turn will train others until labs across the continent are improved.

“The treatment and prevention of the majority of significant illnesses,” he says, “can really be improved by confirmation in the laboratory of that diagnosis, monitoring the patient day after day and making sure the diagnosis has actually been made and there’s been clinical intervention as a result of that diagnosis. And lastly, the laboratories are also involved in surveillance and monitoring the trends for both morbidity and mortality of diseases.”

The African Society for Laboratory Medicine was launched at a meeting in Addis Ababa in mid-March. Dr. Nkengasong, chairman of the Board of Directors at ASLM, says he expects work to begin around July.

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