Scientists

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for governments in West Africa to prioritise laboratory medicine as a panacea to subduing emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

Air Commodore Edward A. Akinwale (Rtd), Laboratory Quality Assurance Manager, said regional governments need to be proactive in strengthening medical laboratory systems and treat foreign aids as bonus when available.

“Achieving this requires availability of skilled and adequate manpower, cutting-edge equipment in conducive facility as well as top notch logistics support,” he said.

Air Commodore Akinwale, who works with the Henry Jackson Foundation for Advancement of Military Medicine in Support of the US Military HIV Programme and Research, was speaking at the end of a CelebrateLAB West Africa free webinar series.

CelebrateLAB is a regional platform focused on laboratory systems strengthening across West Africa.

It was organised in partnership with the Ghana Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists and the Ghana Health Service for laboratory professionals in the West African Sub-region.

Air Commodore Akinwale is a Nigerian Scientist heralded for his work in producing the first Africa Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) certified 5-star Laboratory in Nigeria and Africa.

The COVID-19 diagnostics discussion for clinical and research laboratory professionals and policy makers took off in May after the COVID-19 outbreak led to suspension of the annual conference – usually held in April.

Regional scientific experts led and facilitated the sessions, delivered through presentations and panel discussions, covering: COVID-19 Patient Sample Management: Testing for Diagnosis and Routine Care; Diagnostic Challenges in COVID-19 Pandemic Response in West Africa; and Biosafety in the Era of COVID-19.

Others were Serological Diagnosis of COVID-19; Molecular Diagnostics of COVID-19; and Creating and Sustaining the Value Chain in the Health Laboratory Industry.

On average, about 600 medical laboratory professionals from across Africa and outside the Continent participated in each of the six virtual series aimed at sharing knowledge and best practices to improve diagnosis for better health outcomes during the pandemic.

Candace B. Eastman, the Chief Executive Officer of Africabio Enterprises Inc., organisers of the forum, said: “The vision is to improve the clinical diagnostics environment in a holistic manner.”

“In low-resource settings like West Africa, knowledge sharing among health professionals is crucial at a time of an outbreak of infectious disease that little is known about.”

Dr Dennis Adu-Gyasi, a Consultant Medical Laboratory Scientist and Research Fellow at the Kintampo Health Research Centre, Ghana, who led some of the sessions, said: “Through the collaboration, we were able to impact knowledge to professionals in the comfort of their working environment, while attaining the needed credits to renew their professional licenses.”

“The diverse scientific experts from the region who facilitated the sessions have set the tone for us to work together to make the continent self-sufficient in all aspects of medical laboratory practice,” he said.

Dr Dougbeh Chris Nyan, Chief Scientific Officer with Sufflex Biomed, Liberia, a company that developed a Multiplex Diagnostic Test, said: “Government policy decisions in Africa must strongly prioritise healthcare in general and laboratory medicine in particular with increased budgetary support.”

He said scientists in West Africa were determined to collaborate “across national borders to collectively improve the practice of medical laboratory science in Africa and provide quality healthcare services to our people.”

The next CelebrateLAB conference will take place in Accra from April 20 – 22, 2021, on the theme: Combating emerging and re-emerging infections through standardization of laboratory practice across West Africa.”

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