The WHO Representative, a.i. Dr. Custodia Mandlhate has called for strengthening of laboratory systems in the country. During her familiarization tour of the laboratories at the University Teaching Hospital on 20 October 2016, Dr. Mandlhate said that efficient and reliable laboratory services and networks were essential and fundamental components of effective, well-functioning health systems. This is in line with resolution AFR/RC58/R2 of 2008 which was adopted at the 58th session of the WHO Regional Committee which emphasized the urgency of member states to strengthen public health laboratories at all levels of the health care system. She was visiting the University Teaching Hospital to familiarise herself with operations of laboratories and to identify success factors and challenges which would inform the priorities for current and future support from WHO particularly in the 2018-2017 biennial plan.
Health laboratory strengthening is one of WHO’s priorities. High-quality laboratory testing is critical for patient care, prevention, disease surveillance, and outbreak investigations. A credible and accessible laboratory service capable of producing reliable results in a timely manner is a cornerstone of any country's capacity to investigate public health events. It is therefore imperative that laboratories use standardized methods and have sufficient funds, suitably trained staff and laboratory supplies. The WHO Country Office provides an annual grant to support specific activities at the virology and bacteriology laboratories and three WHO members of staff are stationed at the virology laboratory. WHO also provides materials, transport, equipment, reagents and supplies.
Dr. Mandlhate was taken on a conducted tour of the bacteriology, immunology, molecular, training and virology laboratories. She commended the work which was being conducted at the laboratories and said that under the International Health Regulations 2005, countries were required to develop the capacity to detect, investigate and report to the international community through WHO, potential public health emergencies of international concern, such as disease outbreaks. She emphasized the fact that the public health surveillance laboratory network required more resources to timely confirm diseases of epidemic prone nature and diseases particularly that some diseases such as measles and polio are targeted for elimination and eradication. Dr. Mandlhate said the WHO Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS) for the period 2017 to 2021 was among other strategic areas also focusing on strengthening preparedness, surveillance and effective response to disease outbreaks, acute public health emergencies and the effective management of health-related aspects of humanitarian disasters. She reiterated WHO’s commitment to support the country in building capacity and quality standards to detect, confirm and report public health events in a safe, timely and reliable manner.
The Senior Medical Superintendent at the University Teaching Hospital , Dr. Clarance Chiluba commended the World Health Organization for the support it was providing to strengthen the laboratories at the institution. He emphasized the fact the institution was striving for quality and excellence in services provided. Dr. Chiluba said that Zambia faced threats of diseases such as Ebola, yellow fever and other dangerous diseases which can spread across borders. He emphasized the fact that it was critical to have a well-functioning laboratory system which could detect these threats early to ensure rapid response. The Dr. Chiluba also informed Dr. Mandlhate that the laboratory was actively involved in providing testing services for the Cholera outbreak in Lusaka district which was declared on 6 October 2016. He urged WHO to continue supporting the institution.
The UTH Virology - national polio laboratory is one of the seven (7) laboratories in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) sub-region which has greatly contributed to the polio eradication initiative (PEI). The laboratory conducts tests for measles/rubella, rota virus, yellow fever and influenza. In order to enhance one-health epidemiology, Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) has been expanded to three additional locations around the country. The rotavirus vaccine was introduced in 2012, with evidence generated from rotavirus sentinel surveillance site at UTH. The UTH bacteriology laboratory has provided evidence on Invasive Bacterial Disease (IBD) through Paediatric Bacterial Meningitis (PBM) surveillance which provided valuable information during the introduction of Haemophilus Influenza type B (Hib) vaccine in 2004/5 and subsequently the ten-valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV10) vaccine in 2013. Apart from supporting the hospital with diagnostic services, the laboratories at the University Teaching Hospital they also conduct research and training.
Dr. Mandlhate was accompanied by the WHO Disease Prevention and Control officer, WHO National Surveillance officer under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, WHO staff at the Virology laboratory and the Health Promotion Officer. She met the head of Pathology and Microbiology at the University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Aaron Lunda Shibemba, and the Head of the Virology Laboratory, Dr. Mwaka Monze and the head of the Microbiology Laboratory, Mr. Mox Kalumbi.