A stronger laboratory information system will save lives

Reviewing the effect Ebola had on Sierra Leone, Sallieu Sesay argues for the value of a stronger laboratory information system for health budget decision making.

You might not notice from the outside of a health facility all the effort being made to strengthen our laboratory service. You might not realize how essential a functioning laboratory service is.

But you will have seen the effect Ebola had on Sierra Leone and how important it was for public health officers, health managers and decision makers to know who had the virus, who was treated and who was Ebola free.

Now that the immediate crisis of Ebola has faded, the Government of Sierra Leone is making strides to restore quality, trust and confidence in the country’s laboratory system.  

A key weakness identified in the laboratory system, is that there is no system that makes it possible to report information on laboratory tests provided to patients. Without such a system, it is not possible to make informed public health decisions.

A Laboratory Information System is also essential for identifying epidemic diseases such as Ebola. Therefore, Ministry of Health and Sanitation took key steps towards establishing a Laboratory Information System, with the support provided by UKAid, Options consultancy, US Centre for Disease Control and World Health Organization.

The Laboratory Information System was formally rolled out on 11th July 2016.

Ahmed, a Laboratory National Specimen Manager was present at the event and commented on the importance of improvements made to the medical laboratory system.

Previously, people in the country did not have trust in the Sierra Leone laboratory services; they considered them too weak to provide accurate and reliable results. This is now a thing of the past as a result of Options’ support.

I heard all about the strategy to improve our laboratory services at the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory Lakka in Freetown where I watched the launch and national roll out of a new set of tools.

These standardized forms and registers for district government hospital laboratories should improve quality and reliability of laboratory data.

Dr Victor Matt Lebby, the Director of Laboratory Services at Ministry of Health and Sanitation warmly commended support provided by the Directorate’s key partners to ensure that data collection becomes a central part of an effective lab system.

He said that the equipment would further bolster the Free Health Care Initiative and health indicators of the agenda for change of the President, Dr. Earnest Bai Koroma.

"We owe it to all those people who lost their lives to Ebola to make fundamental improvements to our whole health system. Behind all of this effort, is the detailed technical support which promotes best practice."

By establishing the Laboratory Information System and associated standardized tools, Sierra Leone will be better placed to respond to any public health issue. Laboratories are now much better equipped, with analyzers for reliable testing, autoclaves for sterilizing equipment…the computers will enable swifter analysis and communication of results.

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