Laboratory management authorities (including laboratory directorates and/or laboratory divisions within institutional departments) are at the heart of the national response to epidemics and are the best placed to identify and prioritize the needs of laboratories when it comes to dealing with large-scale epidemics such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The results of the investigation established that, during the Covid-19 crisis, the authorities in charge of laboratories played a large part in the coordination of laboratory activities in support of dedicated response structures. Their different levels of involvement and responsibility in managing the response to Covid-19 were identified in the RESAOLAB countries.
In terms of governance, the study underlines the involvement of the authorities in the development and application of texts governing the legislative and regulatory aspects relating to the diagnosis of Covid-19, as well as response plans and national policies.
During the Covid-19 crisis, laboratories in the countries in the network were supplied with additional equipment, reagents and consumables, including personal protective equipment (PPE), thanks to the support of the member states and of several partners, including the Agence Française de Développement (AFD, French Development Agency) and the Mérieux Foundation. The observation was made at the time that, in the countries with a laboratory directorate, the technical facilities of regional laboratories and national reference laboratories were reinforced, thereby more generally increasing national capacities for diagnosing Covid-19. The study therefore underlines the central role played by the authorities in the decentralization of diagnostic resources, which helps to improve access to diagnosis for a greater section of the population.
RESAOLAB’s contribution to the response
Set up by the Mérieux Foundation in 2009, the RESAOLAB program intervenes at the request of health ministries in West African countries to strengthen national bodies and promote access to high-quality biological diagnosis. With the support of its partners, including the AFD, the Mérieux Foundation invests heavily in RESAOLAB and its advocacy in favor of these authorities, thus contributing to strengthening their capacities through five main components: governance, training, quality, surveillance and networks.
While phase 3 of RESAOLAB aimed to provide institutional support, the project was rapidly able to adapt to the context of the health crisis and redefine a range of activities to support member countries in making national response strategies operational.
The study reveals the contribution made by the network to the response to the epidemic. Each country benefited from individual assistance and a more general support plan was also introduced across the network, particularly for the sharing of information and training. The report also reveals the historic benefits of institutional support – one of RESAOLAB’s main activities since it was set up in 2009 – in preparing authorities to deal with epidemics. In this way, the network has contributed towards better visibility for laboratory management authorities at the level of health ministries, helping them to identify the needs of laboratories, prioritize interventions and make reinforcement activities operational.
The West African Network of Biomedical Analysis Laboratories is a project to support the development of biological diagnosis in West Africa and is characterized by support for the bodies in charge of laboratories at the ministries of health in Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
The main premise is that developing a good system of governance will trigger the strengthening of skills throughout the sector at a national level and in a sustainable way thanks to:
- A better vision and definition of priorities,
- Better coordination of assistance in the subject,
- Better mobilization and use of national and international resources.
Going beyond the governance aspect, the project is committed to supporting the introduction of a certain number of activities, including continuing training for laboratory technicians, external quality assessments and the reinforcement of surveillance based on laboratories, in order to provide governance bodies in charge of laboratories with concrete resources for action.
The project is in its third four-year phase, supported by the AFD. This phase was launched around the same time as the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The rapid mobilization of the AFD allowed an additional grant to be awarded, helping the seven countries to deal with the epidemic more effectively in terms of biological diagnosis.