The East Africa Public Health Laboratory Network has received a double boost in recent months. First, with a US$6.1 million grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria launched in November 2015 to operationalize the Uganda Supranational Reference Laboratory (SRL), and with the recent effectiveness of US$15 million Additional Financing for Uganda to expand coverage and strengthen disease outbreak preparedness.
The Supranational Reference Laboratory is one of thirty-two laboratories spread out across five countries in the East African Community that are participating in the EAPHLN Project. The 2013 SRL Certification of the National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory in Uganda by the World Health Organization was a major achievement for Uganda. The World Bank funded project supported the accreditation process and is funding a state of the art laboratory which is expected to serve other countries in the network and beyond.
Since its inception in 2010, the project has supported the network of laboratories in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to improve quality management systems leading to the attainment of impressive gains in the World Health Organization’s Stepwise Laboratory Improvement Towards Accreditation (SLIPTA) process. The thirty-two laboratories under the EAPHLN Project have also benefited from the roll out of the GeneXpert machine which is able to accurately diagnose drug resistant tuberculosis in hours rather than waiting months for culture results, saving time and money.
The Global Fund grant will support the SRL in Uganda to provide technical support to the national tuberculosis reference laboratories in Botswana, Burundi, Eritrea, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. “We will continue to provide regional leadership on laboratory accreditation to assist all participating countries to progress towards international standards,” says Dr. Alex Opio, Project Coordinator of the EAPHLN Project from Uganda. “This project promotes a spirit of solidarity, with countries assisting and complementing each other to attain the highest standards”, notes Dr. Opio.
The Global Fund regional project was officially launched during the 62nd East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC) Health Ministers’ Conference held in Mauritius. The launch attracted representatives from 16 out of the 18 project countries and included National TB Program Managers, National TB Reference laboratory Managers, TB experts and implementing partners, who recognized the importance of building African institutions.
The East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC) serves as the secretariat for the EAPHLN Project and is the principal recipient of the Global Fund grant. As a regional health organization, ECSA-HC's mandate is to foster regional cooperation and promote implementation of evidence-based policies, strategies and programs for management of TB. Its mandate also encompasses other infectious diseases, as well as to promote generation of information and sharing for decision making, and to facilitate regional collaboration and partnerships for an expanded emergency response to tuberculosis and other the infectious diseases in the region.
Tuberculosis is now the leading cause of death from an infectious disease globally. The Africa region has roughly 28% of the world’s cases but also the most severe burden relative to the population with 281 cases for 100,000 people. This is more than double the global average of 133 and higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) threshold of 250 per 100,000 for a health emergency.
“Virtually all high TB burden countries in Africa need to improve case detection, strengthen diagnosis and ensure prompt treatment,” says Miriam Schneidman, Lead Health Specialist and Team Leader for the EAPHLN Project. The regional approach inherent in the EAPHLN Project is critical to effective disease control efforts, as the flow of people in the East African Community is expanding rapidly and collective action is critical.
“Building strong and resilient institutions and relying on African expertise is a key feature of the Bank-funded regional laboratory operation”, notes Schneidman.