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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Regional Tuberculosis Laboratory opens in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

A Supra National Reference Laboratory (SRL) that can diagnose Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and monitor other Tuberculosis laboratories in the East African region on safety and quality control is open in Uganda.

Tuberculosis is highly infectious, hard to diagnose and is transmitted through the air we breathe. The average TB patient infects 10-15 others each year before they cure or die. Every year, TB kills more adults worldwide than any disease but HIV. 200 children die from TB every day yet it costs less than 3 cents a day to provide therapy that will prevent it says the TB Alliance.

In the East African region, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are all in the world’s 22 high-burden countries for Tuberculosis and rank 14th, 15th and 16th respectively according to the 2012 WHO rankings. Uganda, particularly, has increasing cases of MDR-TB with about 5,000 people dying each year in Uganda as a result of TB and it remains the leading cause of death among people who are HIV positive.

“We can now work on 60-100 samples per day and we shall be able to triple this soon. We are now doing business better, sending back results electronically and we have the capacity to provide services to the laboratory network in the region,” said Prof. Moses Joloba the Director, Supra National Reference Laboratory-Uganda. The lab is already receiving samples from Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Kenya.

The Uganda National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory (NTRL) attained Supra National status granted by the World Health Organization (WHO) by recommendation from the Global Laboratory Initiative (GLI) last week becoming only the second in Africa after South Africa.
As a result of its certification, the laboratory can now offer affordable, TB diagnostic services efficiently for the African region, and also gives clinicians a second opinion on TB samples and confidence in the results attained.

According to Dr. Francis Adatu, the former National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programmes Manager, Supra National status means the results from the lab are trusted, there is regular quality control and it gives Uganda a monitoring and leadership role.

“The laboratory system continues to be one of the weakest links in our health systems yet it is important that results given to clinicians are credible,” said Dr. Josephine Kibaru-Mbae, the director general of East, Central and Southern Africa (ECSA) Health Community.

“The NTRL is strategic and a step in the regional integration process. The laboratory will reduce costs, time and tests that cannot be done by national laboratories will be sent here,” said Kibaru-Mbae. Previously, the TB samples were sent to South Africa and Europe.

Now, the NTRL will provide quality laboratory TB diagnostic and Management services to the region and strengthen the national tuberculosis diagnostic network by offering leadership, training, supervisions and expert guidance, said Prof. Moses Joloba.

NTRL’s diagnostic capability ranges from Fluorescent microscopy to solid and liquid culture, elaborate external Quality Assessment of Acid Fast Bacilli (AFB) microscopy and geneXpert. It has also established an in country TB specimen Referral System (TSRS) to enable active surveillance of the prevalence and incidences of possible Drug resisting TB emergence.

“The cost of treatment is lower with accurate testing and reliable laboratory results. We shall now focus on performance and sustainability,” said the Ruhakana Rugunda the minister of Health. He promised that government will build a bigger facility to house the Supra National laboratory in Butabika, near Kampala.

Previously, it took 17 days get samples from all over the region to the Laboratory, now it takes only 48 hours using the Posta system. The can now handle over 3,000 samples from 153 in 2008. The certification was supported by USAID and the U.S Centers for Diseases Control (CDC).

Ends-

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