News accounts of medical laboratory test errors is one reason why patients and clinical laboratory professionals in developing nations are calling for corrective action
From Kenya to the Caribbean, clinical laboratory testing failures are making national news. It is both patients and professional associations of laboratory workers who are fueling public debate and government action in response to public disclosures about patient harm as a consequence of errors in medical laboratories testing.
Clinical Laboratory Stakeholder Conferences Calling For Change
In Nairobi, Kenya, pathologists and clinical laboratory professionals gathered recently for a first-of-its-kind meeting of the Medical Laboratory Stakeholders Forum (MLSF).
“Country statistics [in Kenya] show four in 10 lab results are erroneous,” the MLSF stated on its website. This means that only about 60% of patients in Kenya get accurate diagnosis of their diseases. “It is therefore paramount that a deeper understanding of the role that medical laboratories play in the overall health sector is realized,” stated the authors.
When the first-ever Medical Stakeholders Forum was conducted recently in Nairobi, Kenya, one keynote speaker was John N. Nkengasong, Ph.D., who is Chief of the Global HIV/AIDS International Laboratory Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Global Health. Theme of the conference was how to raise the quality of medical laboratory testing in the country. Across Africa and other developing countries, there is a growing recognition that the accuracy of clinical laboratory testing must be improved. (Photo by the CDC.)
One keynote speaker at the Kenya conference was John N. Nkengasong, Ph.D. from the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nkengasong is Chief of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS (DGHA) International Laboratory Branch at the CDC’s Center for Global Health (CGH).
Nkengasong has extensive experience in diagnostics and implementation of therapies in resource-challenged areas. He recently spearheaded the creation of the African Society of Laboratory Medicine (ASLM).
“Medical laboratory services are an essential—yet often neglected—component of health systems in developing countries,” lead author Nkengasong wrote in the abstract of a paper published in the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s American Journal of Clinical Pathology. The purpose of the paper was to emphasize how critical it is for developing countries to develop and implement national laboratory strategic plans (NLSP) and policies. NLSPs are essential to serve as guides to strengthen laboratory health systems, Nkengasong wrote. “Strengthening [medical laboratory] services will require coordinated efforts by national governments,” he declared.
In Western Africa, the Ghana Association of Biomedical Laboratory Scientists (GABMLS) recently held its 2012 Annual National Congress and Scientific Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was promoting quality healthcare delivery in Ghana through strengthening its medical laboratory services and systems.
“There is always a positive correlation between a healthy population and a thriving economy,” observed biomedical laboratory scientist Thomas Gyampomah, who chaired the local organizing committee. He was quoted in a story published at Ghana news website, Myjoyonline.com.
Gyampomah emphasized the direct link between quality healthcare and quality medical laboratory testing. “It is thus important as a nation to focus on … providing quality standardized and acceptable medical diagnosis,” he declared.
CARICOM Nations Endorse Urgent Action on Medical Laboratory Crisis
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, CARICOM (Caribbean Community) ministers met recently in St. Lucia at the 16th meeting of the CARICOM Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD). One aim of the meeting was to take steps to reverse the crisis in medical laboratories in the Caribbean region.
The ministers endorsed key policy recommendations for pathology and clinical laboratory services, according to a newsletter posted on the PANCAP (Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV & Aids) website. The action came after the revelation of “startling information” about the quality of medical laboratory services in the region, according to a story published in Anguilla News.
Clinical Laboratories in Crisis in the Caribbean Region
The Caribbean Med Labs Foundation (CMLF) had requested PANCAP to include the issues affecting medical laboratory services of the region on the COHSOD agenda. “Clinicians depend on laboratories to manage patients, and when they don’t trust laboratory results, they often have to rely only on their clinical judgement in managing their patients,” stated CMLF Director, Valerie Wilson at the conference. Wilson praised the government backing for licensing and accreditation.
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers can take these conferences and related government initiatives as a signal that the movement toward higher quality and global standardization in medical laboratories is gaining momentum in developing countries.
—Pamela Scherer McLeod
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The comment that 40% of laboratory results are erroneous is a large percentage. In the article, is any information given regarding the source of error or the type of error, including whether it affects patients’ diagnosis, prognosis or therapy? Does this include pre-analytical, analytical, and post-analytical sources of error? What percentage of error would be found in a ‘developed’ country and how does the affected areas’ use of clinical test results by clinicians differ from other areas in the world?