A big step has been taken to strengthen Africa's
health care systems. Officials from 13 African countries, the United States and
the World Health Organization Monday launched an effort to ensure the continent
has top-quality medical labs.
Better medical labs mean better patient care – and
officials say the only way to ensure a laboratory is a good one is to have it
In other words, certifying that the labs meet
international quality control standards.
Meeting in Rwanda's capital, Kigali (7/27-29), African
health officials signed off on an accreditation process. The project has the
support of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, WHO's Regional
Office for Africa and the US Centers for Disease Control, among others.
Dr. Lee Hilborne calls it a "tremendous leap forward
for diagnostic services in Africa."
"There's been a lot of investment in infrastructure
in treating patients with HIV/AIDS. And… this is actually… an acknowledgement
that the process has matured to the point where in fact countries can think
about doing something in a very standard way… as it's recognized at the
international level," he says.
Hilborne is past president of the American Society
for Clinical Pathology, which helped design the program. He says the five-step
accreditation process is a roadmap to help medical labs gradually improve
"If we expected laboratories… to meet those
standards immediately – they're going to fail," he says.
International health officials call medical labs the
"backbone" of health care systems, conducting tests and research for many
They say, for example, that sub-Saharan Africa has
two million deaths each year from HIV/AIDS, another two million from TB and about
one million more from malaria.
Hilborne says the current state of African medical
are some laboratories that really in fact have already met international
accreditation standards. Most of those are at the national level, but… Many of the labs in the district and local
laboratories…really are lacking for almost anything in terms of resources," he
Taking a global view
He says health conditions in Africa can no longer be
viewed in isolation. They're now of international concern.
"We're a global economy. We're a global environment
now. And so the diseases that we're seeing in Africa, certainly we're seeing
here in the US, in Europe and other countries as well," he says.
Hilborne, who's also a UCLA pathology professor,
says many members of the American Society for Clinical Pathology donated their
services to the project.
"It's safe to say that my experience, along with
that of many of the other volunteers who've been with the organization working
on our global health initiative, is it's almost a life-changing experience to
be able to give back to the world something that we take for granted," he says.
Rwanda's permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health
Agnes Binagwaho says, "We cannot provide high quality of health care without