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Communique issued at end of CelebrateLab West Africa 2022 Conference held in Accra-Ghana from April, 20 – 21

CelebrateLab

Communique issued at end of CelebrateLab West Africa 2022 Conference held in Accra-Ghana from April, 20 – 21

READ THE FULL COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE END OF CELEBRATELAB® WEST AFRICA 2022 CONFERENCE HELD IN ACCRA-GHANA FROM 20TH – 21ST APRIL, 2022

Overview

The 8th annual professional meeting for medical laboratory and research scientists, CelebrateLAB® West Africa 2022 Conference, was held in Accra, Ghana, from 20th – 21st April 2022, with the theme: “Ensuring Diagnostic Capability and Vaccine Sufficiency as Panacea to Combating Infectious Diseases in West Africa.” This year’s Conference placed special emphasis on how to improve research and diagnostics environment in the area of laboratory capacity, human resources as well as enhancing vaccine production capabilities in West Africa.

The objectives of the conference were to:
• Provide a venue for stakeholders across W. Africa to access information of importance to Laboratory Systems Strengthening (LSS)
• Provide continuing education to clinical laboratory and research professionals
• Develop public-private partnerships to enhance an environment for innovation
• Strengthen labor-force for cross border trade in skills, knowledge, and expertise
• Showcase vendors and suppliers to share expertise and technology best-suited for W. Africa
• Provide a venue for knowledge sharing in clinical and research best practices
Convened by the Liberia-based Life Science firm, Africabio Enterprises, Inc., the conference was organized in partnership with the Ghana Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists (GAMLS), co-hosted by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and Akai House Clinic, with support from the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) and other partners.

There were 16 workshop sessions, two opening plenary and a grand opening ceremony with senior level representation from the Ministry of Health Ghana and Liberia, Ghana Health Service, Ghana Standards Authority, Africa Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM), Africa Centre for Diseases Control (Africa CDC) and Prevention, US Center for Diseases Control, Ghana, and other regional and international organizations.

The Conference exceeded the target of overall attendees by 22%. A total of 312 onsite and virtual delegates, made up of laboratory professionals, physicians, regulators, policy makers, representatives of regional multilateral organizations, healthcare solution providers, product manufacturers and suppliers participated in the event. CelebrateLAB® West Africa 2022 also recorded 82% increase in women attendees from 57 in 2021 to 104 participants– the highest since the conference was launched in Monrovia in 2014, following the Ebola Virus Outbreak in West Africa that year. The 8th Conference also set a record for having the highest number of Francophone West Africa participants.
Conference attendees were from 11 countries in West Africa, Ethiopia, United States of America, Germany, Zimbabwe, Portugal, United Kingdom, Uganda, Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The keynote speaker, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, noted that Africa, through determination and resilience has gotten better in responding to diseases outbreaks and applauded the enormous role that medical laboratory professionals across the continent played in the diagnosis and surveillance of Covid-19. She thanked them for their leadership in the fight and control of the pandemic, and urged all managers of healthcare systems and health ministries across the West Africa subregion, to recognize and respect the important contribution of medical laboratory and research professionals in the quest to ensure a healthier continent.

Conference delegates, among other pertinent issues, deliberated on:

West Africa Scientists’ role in the diagnostics, research and vaccine development in the era of pandemics; Lab and Research Role in Public Health and other Future disease outbreaks; Biomedical Engineering and the Laboratory Profession; Technology Behind Vaccine Production and the Benefits for Africa; Human Resources and Diagnostics Capacity in West Africa; Use of post-pandemic laboratory data in improving diagnostic capabilities for emerging and re-emerging infections in West Africa; Global Health Security – Lessons from the current and projection for future pandemics and tech transfer from the best scientific academic institutions.
Other topics included: Future Application: Automated PCR Technologies for Diagnostics and Surveillance of HIV, TB, and Malaria, Understanding Lassa Fever in West Africa, Ongoing Research and Next Steps; Mentorship Competency in malaria diagnostics control; Sustaining the culture of Quality Assurance in clinical and research laboratories; Next generation diagnostics; Combating Antimicrobial Resistance; Supply Chain – Diagnostics, Drugs, Medical Technology, and Logistics Management as well as the Role of Lab Associations and Network across the Region: Shared Experiences.

CelebrateLab

Affirmations and Observations

The Delegates made the following affirmations and observations:

1. The ongoing Novel Coronavirus Diseases 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused West Africa hugely in mortality, morbidity, social relations, loss of jobs and economic hardships, driving more people into poverty.

2. Covid-19 has again exposed the gaps in West Africa’s health sector and uncovered the subregion’s diagnostic challenges. The initial difficulties with obtaining testing kits and other diagnostics supplies affected the region’s response to the pandemic. Additionally, the challenges in securing vaccines at the unset of the vaccine deployment across the world, highlighted the need for West Africa to work relentlessly towards achieving self-sufficiency in vaccines, diagnostic kits and materials, and other medical supplies.

3. That West Africa, like the rest of the world, has learnt important lessons from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and other diseases outbreaks such as the Ebola Virus Disease, Lassa Fever and Dengue Fever among others. That the lessons learnt from the current pandemic and previous outbreaks should be applied in critical policy formulation and programmes to strengthen the sub region’s health systems to combat infectious diseases and future pandemics.

4. Noted that Assets have been built within the West Africa subregion during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. Facility managers in all countries were urged to endeavour to put measures in place to maintain systems that were set up and are operational in their establishments to protect the investments and to ensure sustainability. Some of the asserts mentioned included:

• Use of information systems like the Nigerian SORMAS database in adequate and timely information dissemination across sectors during the pandemic.
• Establishment of infrastructure and molecular-based diagnostic testing capacity at both public and private facilities. In some countries in W. Africa, expanding knowledge beyond the public sector was critical based on the ability to evoke a comprehensive response.
• Utilization of Integrated Disease Surveillance System supported by a good case definition and laboratory confirmation for early detection and diagnosis.
5. Participants noted that COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of laboratory diagnostics in disease surveillance and healthcare outcomes, and acknowledged the critical role Medical Laboratory Professionals have played in building diagnostic and surveillance capacity in Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, participants commended their involvement in contact tracing, case finding, sampling, specimen transportation and diagnosis of the disease. The ability to ensure adherence to routine (Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) and documenting new guidelines for laboratory response during a pandemic is critically for areas such as chain of information, specimen collection and transportation, biosafety, and introduction of new products.

6. Conference participants noted the significant increase in the incidents of Lassa Fever in West Africa,
and highlighted the contributions of Medical Laboratory Professionals in research works and diagnosis of Lassa Fever and Ebola in Nigeria, Benin, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Ghana and other affected West African Countries.
7. Medical Laboratory Professionals in the subregion have also made significant contributions to the initial stages of vaccine development; which has helped to strengthen health systems in the region. In this regard, the delegates acknowledged West Africa Medical Laboratory professionals for their role in achieving the Phase 3 Clinical Trial of COVID-19 Vaccines in Ghana.

8. Delegates underscored that due to the pandemic, there is now more demand for transparent policies and requirements for conducting clinical research trials and utilization of new technologies in diagnostics. Delegates recognized the need to continue to focus on diseases of interest to the region instead of being led by external agendas of donor agencies.

Vaccine Production

9. On vaccine production, delegates stressed that Africa has a moral responsibility and must work to achieve the African Union target to produce at least 60% of vaccines used in Africa by 2040, as against the 1% vaccine produced in Africa before the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure availability of affordable, high quality and accessible vaccines throughout the continent.

10. Delegates commended Ghana, Senegal and Rwanda for their partnerships with BioTech for vaccine production in Africa to address the issues of vaccine sufficiency and called for wider collaboration, urging West Africa governments to truly build diagnostic and research expertise to meet vaccine manufacturing in Africa for Africa.

11. Noted that strengthening laboratory systems remain key to combating Infectious diseases, stressed the importance of building and maintaining Quality Management Systems (QMS) – the hallmark of laboratory science – and ensuring adherence to ISO 15189 for excellent, efficient and effective laboratory science practice across the subregion.
Delegates commended the Structured Laboratory Mentorship Project for Laboratory QMS and associated trainings being implemented in Ghana, and the institution of National Laboratory Accreditation Directorate in Nigeria to ensure adherence to ISO 15189. The conference agreed that these programmes should be scaled up and replicated in other countries across the region.

12. Delegates underscored the importance of maintaining the highest laboratory quality standards and ensuring that all laboratories get accreditation, the personal trained and retrained on QMS. The conference stressed the need to institute regional accreditation body of Medical Laboratory Sciences practice in West Africa.

13. Africa, as a matter of duty and patriotism must support its scientists and innovators in Biotech and Biopharm, and consciously focus on improving acceptance and cost of diagnostic devices and kits produced on the continent.

14. That building research capacity and attaining vaccine sufficiency require effective support from all stakeholders including academia, governmental, private industry, and non-governmental agencies and professionals alike.

15. Acknowledged that vaccine hesitancy is a serious problem in Africa with several vaccines expiry in many countries. Low accessibility, poor planning and implementation, and lack of awareness among other factors, have led to the low intake of the covid-19 vaccine in many countries in the region. The conference, therefore, called for increased Public Health Awareness to tackle vaccine hesitancy and charged all health professionals to get involved in educating and raising awareness among the population on the benefits of vaccines and how the lack of it increases vulnerability.

16. Stressed that data is very vital in fighting diseases, therefore, there is the need to put measures in place to gather all the available data from all sources in the efforts to fight infectious diseases. In this regard, delegates agreed that:

I. Adequate systems must be put in place to capture data from private health facilities.
II. Individual professionals who possess data must take steps to publish them in accordance with international standards to protect their works and guard against theft.
III. Measures should be put in place requiring individuals using self-testing diagnostics kits to report the outcome to the appropriate authorities.
17. On the outlook for pandemics and epidemics, delegates noted the short period – three to four years – between the Spanish Flu outbreak through Avian Flu to MERS to COVID-19, compared to earlier world pandemics and stated that the next disease outbreak is a matter of when, therefore time is of essence to prepare. That based on the period – January to March – when the world was alerted on Covid-19 and later declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), and how countries moved quickly from one case to thousands and millions of cases in a matter of days, countries must move faster to put measures in place in readiness of the next pandemic and epidemic.

Stronger Collaboration

18. Delegates commended the National Laboratory Policy Document developed in Nigeria and recently in Ghana, which is currently undergoing consideration by the country’s health authorities, and encouraged the Ghana Health Service, Ministry of Health, the professional body and all relevant stakeholders to expedite action on the document. Other countries in the sub region were urged to emulate the examples of Nigeria and Ghana to develop policy and regulation to govern the practice of the Medical Laboratory Sciences profession in the subregion.

19. Stronger collaboration among countries and governments across the African Region remain key to achieving the highest standards in health and research, therefore, efforts should be made to strengthen regional collaboration. Regional collaboration among professional associations was lauded as a means for narrowing the experience gap across countries in laboratory system strengthening. Experienced Associations in countries like Ghana and Nigeria can collaborate through the CelebrateLAB® platform to help establish professional associations in countries like Sierra Leone and Guinea, and to advocate for professional regulatory institutions in those countries.

20. Opportunities for researchers to collaborate and network within W. Africa with colleagues with similar research interests is also critical. Laboratory and research Scientists across the subregion must therefore, make conscious efforts at networking to explore areas of collaboration in order to find solutions to common problems and share expertise and best practices.

Building laboratory expertise and capacity

21. That laboratory infrastructural capacity is as important as the human resources in ensuring high quality diagnosis. Therefore, Health Ministries and mangers of health facilities in public and private sector establishments across West Africa should champion the building of the needed infrastructural capacity required for quality professional delivery.

22. That there is an urgent need to scale up training of Medical Laboratory Scientists. Regulators of Health laboratory science in West Africa such as the Allied Health Professions Council and national medical laboratory professional bodies must work to speed up the process of instituting the licensure examination of graduate professionals, using the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria template.

23. Noted that the current patient to medical Laboratory Professional ratio is inadequate yet, there are several trained laboratory scientists unemployed in many West Africa countries. Delegates called on Health Ministries across the subregion to engage more professionals to build the diagnostic capacity of public healthcare facilities and to increase the professional to patients ratio as, at the current rate of training it will take another 400 years to achieve the accepted ratio as pertains in developed countries like the United Kingdom.

24. Training the right number of professionals with the highest level of expertise is essential in preparing West Africa health systems in readiness for future disease outbreak. Therefore, training in medical laboratory science must meet international standards such as ISO 15189 and the 12 Quality Essentials of Laboratory practice, and should be tailored to the current demands of the profession, with structured curriculum that is recognized at the national, regional and international levels. This requires that trainers should be qualified and certified.

25. That the refusal of some national health administrators to recognize academic qualifications such as the Doctor of Medical Laboratory Science programme and the Fellowship of West African Postgraduate College of Medical Laboratory Sciences, limits regional integration. Employers should therefore take keen interest in these programmes and reexamine demands from professional bodies for recognition of qualifications such as Doctor of Medical Laboratory Science and ensure that they are appropriately placed in the organizational structure and salary scheme.

26. Recognizing that as professionals get more experience and qualification, the easier and more likely it gets for them to leave the continent, employers in the public and private sectors should enhance remuneration and conditions of service of health professionals to prevent the brain-drain.

27. Stressed that there is an urgent need to develop national diagnostic strategies to expand the workforce capacity in the sector and institute in-service training for professionals at all levels, among laboratory managers and technical supervisors in all countries, by reenforcing the continuous professional development. That retraining of professionals should be a part of certification of laboratory facilities. Called of ways to ensure that professionals have access to more options for continuing education credits for continuous improvement of individual knowledge. More online continuing education like BioLinX offered by CelebrateLAB® to sponsoring organizations may be an option.

28. That untrained and unlicensed people should not be allowed to practice in medical laboratories as this, amounts to promoting quackery. The conference urged all Laboratory Professionals across the West Africa subregion to safeguard the practice of laboratory science and advocate to ensure that only licensed and trained professionals are allowed to practice the profession. That Medical laboratory diagnostics is the expertise of Laboratory professionals, therefore, where Point-of-care testing (POCT) is required, Medical Laboratory Scientists must be allowed to provide the monitoring and evaluation to ensure better outcomes.

29. Delegates called for stronger regulations and the setting up of Medical Laboratory Science Directorates at national ministries and regulatory agencies of laboratory science in the sub-region.

30. Noted that molecular-based diagnosis is essential in the current era of medicine, capacity in molecular-based testing in laboratories in the region should be increased gradually, starting with enabling Gene Xpert technique in local facilities, while automation, genome sequencing and molecular testing are considered from district health laboratories to national across the subregion.

31. That the threat of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR); substandard drugs, and inappropriate use of drugs are the greatest threats in modern medicine today, aside COVID-19. All health professionals should get involved in creating public awareness.

32. Underscored the critical role of research in combating diseases. Specimen transport research, post pandemic research, operational research among others are currently needed for better health systems in the future. Medical Laboratory Scientists and health professionals were encouraged to undertake simple researches to tackle basic problems.

33. On how to adapt diagnosis equipment and devices procured for Covid-19 and previous diseases’ outbreak for future diagnostics needs, laboratory professionals were encouraged to take up the responsibility of taking stock of their testing and plan with facility managers to present evidence based proposal to the authorities on the benefits and use of equipment that are abandoned at facilities.

34. That facility mangers must desist from guess work when requesting for equipment and materials. Instead, they should focus on proper planning, using data and analysis of consumption to justify request.

35. Delegates reaffirmed the importance of ethics in the practice of the Laboratory Science, and entreated the professionals to uphold themselves to the highest standards in ethics, keep their integrity at all times, and advocate for what is right and ethical, and not compromise on quality.

36. The conference encouraged Medical Laboratory Scientists to sharpen their negotiation and lobbying skills in order to effectively engage political leaders to speed up laboratory policy implementation.

37. Noting the lack of interest among women scientists to contest for leadership positions in the professional associations, women laboratory scientists were encouraged to take up the challenge as women turned to be very skillful in lobbying and this could help project the demands of the professional bodies.

38. On the limited number of Women medical laboratory scientists in Microscopy, the delegates encouraged women scientists to pursue certification in the World Health Organization (WHO) Microscopist, as currently, there are only a few of them across the region and only one, among the 10 WHO certified Microscopists in Ghana.

Resolutions:
The conference delegates re-affirmed their commitment to continue advocating for laboratory systems strengthening to make quality laboratory services affordable and accessible to all as part of the interventions for achieving Universal Health Coverage to help meet the targets set in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for West Africa.
The delegates therefore resolved to support all interventions by subregional governments in the efforts to build local capacity for manufacturing of vaccines and other health care products to achieve self-sufficiency in combating infectious diseases in West Africa and to prepare for the next disease outbreak, when it does come.
CelebrateLAB® West Africa Conference Ambassadors, made up of eminent medical and research laboratory scientists appointed from across West Africa, who shape the structure and content of CelebrateLAB® West Africa Conference, unanimously agreed for the 2023 conference to be held in Abuja-Nigeria.
Africabio Enterprises, Inc., the Conference Organizers and Ambassadors, co-hosts and other partners expressed profound appreciation to the Ghana Health Service, its Director-General, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, the Ministry of Health, Ghana, the Minister Hon Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, Directors of the Ministry, the Ghana Standards Authority and its Director-General, the Foods and Drugs Authority, Ghana and its Directors and CEOs, for their relentless support during the 2 years staging of the conference in Ghana.

…………………….. ………………………………….. …………………….
Candace B. Eastman Air Cdre Edward Abayomi Akinwale (Rtd.) Dr. Abu Rahamani
CEO, Africabio Enterprises, Inc. HUF for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Nigeria President, GAMLS, (Conference Organizers) (For CLWA 2022 Ambassadors) (Conference Organizing Partner)

15 June 2022

CelebrateLab

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