May 2020 set off an unprecedented CelebrateLAB West Africa webinar series to provide COVID-19 diagnostics discussion for Clinical and Research Laboratory Professionals and Policy makers across the West Africa Region, after Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak led to suspension of the annual conference – usually held in April.
West Africa Scientific Experts from across the region, led and facilitated the series of webinars from various locations, making it possible to share real time local and regional knowledge, and best practices aimed at achieving better health outcomes during the pandemic.
“The vision is to improve the clinical diagnostics environment in a holistic manner. And I must say the regional collaboration amongst laboratory scientists, researchers and scientists looking to commercialize products in West Africa, is unprecedented,” says Candace B. Eastman, CEO of Africabio Enterprises Inc., organizers of the annual CelebrateLAB West Africa Conference.
“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,” Ms. Eastman stressed, adding: “Finally West Africa can truly own the path to create an environment for better health outcomes.”
The virtual training series was hosted in partnership with the Ghana Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists (GAMLS) and the Ghana Health Service. On average, about 600 Medical Laboratory Professionals from across Africa and outside the continent, participated in each of the six virtual series. Delivered through presentations and panel discussions, the sessions covered the following areas: COVID-19 Patient Sample Management: Testing for Diagnosis and Routine Care; Diagnostic Challenges in COVID-19 Pandemic Response in West Africa; Biosafety in the Era of COVID-19; Serological Diagnosis of COVID-19; Molecular Diagnostics of COVID-19; and Creating and Sustaining the Value Chain in the Health Laboratory Industry.
Held over a six-month period, the series made it possible for Medical Laboratory professionals to benefit from valuable regional resource of experienced Scientists who work on the continent and have first-hand knowledge of the issues impacting healthcare systems in the region.
“With the COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions introduced globally, thereafter, we were not sure how Medical Laboratory Professionals were going to acquire Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training to renew their practicing license, as traditionally, credits were only awarded for in-person trainings,” reflects Dr. Dennis Adu-Gyasi, Consultant Medical Laboratory Scientist and Research Fellow at the Kintampo Health Research Centre, Ghana, who led some of the sessions.
“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,” added Dr. Adu-Gyasi.
On his part, Liberian Scientist, Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan, Chief Scientific Officer with Sufflex Biomed, Liberia, a company that developed a Multiplex Diagnostic Test, noted that: “The recent CelebrateLAB/GAMLS webinar series during this COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrate once more the power of professional knowledge-sharing and productive collaboration among African medical laboratory scientists. We are resolved to working hand-in-hand across national borders to collectively improve the practice of medical laboratory science in Africa and provide quality healthcare services to our people,” states the Chief Scientist in Infectious Disease Research & Diagnostics, who facilitated some of the sessions.
“As we prepare for the 4th Industrial Revolution, government policy decisions in Africa must strongly prioritize healthcare in general and laboratory medicine in particular with increased budgetary support,” stated Dr. Nyan.
Herald for his work in producing the first Africa Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) certified 5-star Laboratory in Nigeria and Africa, Air Commodore Edward A. Akinwale (Rtd), Laboratory Quality Assurance Manager with the Henry Jackson Foundation for Advancement of Military Medicine in Support of the US Military HIV Program (MHRP) and Research, noted that: “Early laboratory diagnosis is the panacea for subduing emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The need for the entire West Africa sub-region to be proactive in this regard cannot be overemphasized.”
Air Commodore Akinwale, a panellist on some of the sessions, says: “Key to achieving this requires availability of skilled and adequate manpower, cutting-edge equipment in conducive facility as well as top notch logistics support. COVID19 pandemic has highlighted the need for governments to prioritize this and treat foreign aids as bonus when available,” adds Air Commodore Akinwale, author of the book: “A Guide to Unlocking SLIPTA Checklist and ISO 15189,” which is a permanent fixture in laboratories across West Africa.
The next CelebrateLAB West Africa Conference is scheduled for Accra, Ghana, from 20 – 22 April 2021 on the theme: Combating emerging and re-emerging infections through standardization of laboratory practice across West Africa.