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Global Health Systems Solutions (GHSS) has completed Strengthening Laboratory Management Toward Accreditation (SLMTA) training for laboratory professionals from six West African member states, including Mali, Benin, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, and Cape Verde. The SLMTA programme is an innovative, task- and competency-based training programme aiming to address deficiencies in laboratory quality through workshops and work-based improvement projects supported by on-site visits and mentoring.  The program teaches laboratory managers how to use available resources to improve their laboratory.

The SLMTA training ran for 5 days from June 13 to 17, 2022, in Cotonou-Benin, with 18 participants coming from six reference laboratories; 3 participants from each laboratory. The workshop was facilitated by a team of SLMTA trainers and Master trainers from Global Health Systems Solutions (GHSS). The training was organized as part of the activities being implemented by GHSS within the framework of a project on the Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Network (RISLNET) for West Africa, funded by the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) with collaboration from the West Africa Health Organization (WAHO).

Accreditation to meet international norms, such as the ISO15189 standards, is the ultimate goal of all diagnostics laboratories that strive to implement SLMTA to ensure the accuracy and safety of patients’ test results. Though the international standards are challenging for most laboratories in Africa, including countries in the West Africa region, the training designed and delivered by GHSS aims to address the gaps and deficiencies in laboratory quality. This series of workshops and work-based improvement projects will build capacity for laboratory managers, senior biologists, and technologists to implement improved practices. The training also provides participants orientations and template guides to strengthen the laboratory management system and prepare for ISO 15189 Accreditation.

Speaking during the training, Mr. Callistus Ntongowa, Deputy Executive Director of GHSS and Coordinator of the RISLNET West African Project, noted, “In April, our team carried out a baseline assessment of all the six reference laboratories represented here today and identified the gaps they are experiencing within the context of the laboratory management system. This SLMTA training workshop was designed to fill in these gaps. Our ambition is to carry all 6 laboratories to a level of 5 stars, which will take them towards accreditation. We will be working very closely to see that this is achieved by the end of this programme.

Dr. Zohoum Alban, representing the Benin Minister of Health at the SLMTA training, said Benin’s Ministry of Health supports the programme because it can advance laboratory quality management systems in his country and the African continent.

Laboratory managers, technicians, and biologists in the SLMTA programme acknowledged that the training had come at the opportune moment. “There are aspects of the accreditation process that we did not know and others that we knew but did not know how to approach.  This training has provided us with the necessary guides on how to approach these, and the skills and knowledge necessary to speed up the accreditation of public health laboratories in our home country.” -Mr.  Fernandes Varela Isaias, Laboratories Focal Point at the National Public Health Institute, Cape Verde.  

On a similar note, Dr. Denon Yves Eric, Head of Division for Laboratory at the National Public Health, Cotonou-Benin, noted that “during the baseline assessment of the National public health lab of Benin for which I work, using the SLIPTA Check List, our lab scored zero stars. So, there are a lot of gaps for us to fill and this training serves as a great opportunity for us to learn and correct them. We have come up with a plan to implement that which we have learnt here so that when the team will be coming for another evaluation, our performance would have improved, and we will be moving towards accreditation.

Participants from reference laboratories in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Togo all reported that they had gathered significant knowledge and guidance that will be implemented to improve their laboratories’ quality management systems and prepare them for ISO 15189 Accreditation.

SLMTA Master Trainer and Programme Coordinator at GHSS, Mr. Fon Sylvanus, spoke to the need for leadership within laboratories and in the government, noting that “management support at high levels, even the Ministry of Health, is key in the accreditation process. It might become very challenging for the process to progress if what the laboratory manager or technician proposes is not taken into consideration by hierarchy.”

The RISLNET West African Project Coordinator highlighted the reality of the time it takes to experience meaningful change, noting that it will take about 2 to 4 years for each reference laboratory to sail through to accreditation. Mr. Ntongawa further stated that there is a need for sustained funding to drive improvements; “We pray to have continuous funding to keep supporting these reference laboratories and their staff so that at the end of the programme, we should have boasted of taking if not all, 50 to 60% of the labs to accreditation.”

The laboratory professionals were each given “improvement projects” to implement in the reference laboratories of their respective home countries. The SLMTA trainers are expected to visit these laboratories 3 weeks after the SLMTA 1 training to ensure that the trainees can begin implementing the “improvement project” in their laboratories. This will be followed by continuous mentorship and a second SLMTA training, which will be organized in three months.

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