Hope for Ugandan as unlicensed laboratories are to be closed

Like other East Africans, Ugandans hope to soon see better health services as the government moves to regulate laboratories in the country.

East African Community (EAC) partner states have their laboratories regulated, and Uganda is to take a step in this direction this year.

Recently shocking reports have exposed the selling of HIV negative results by lab attendants in private clinics in Kampala, leaving many perplexed and putting lives at risk.

“People have begun selling HIV/AIDS results, giving wrong diagnosis so as to cheat people of their money, this is unprofessional and dangerous. When such things start happening we cannot wait to register and regulate them, they are putting many lives at risk and we can’t just watch” Lawrence Ssebuufu, the administrative officer at Allied Health Professionals Council (AHPC) said.

In 2010 Uganda developed the National Health Laboratory Services Policy aimed at attaining good standards of health for all people, and promoting better management of diseases, faster recovery and less visits to health facilities.

The policy was implemented by the AHPC at the beginning of March 2013. 700 laboratories are targeted for registration in the first phase running from March to June 2013 and 1,000 for the period between July 2013 and June 2014.

Ssebuufu reveals that the selling of HIV/AIDS results could not be the only worry since many laboratories are giving wrong lab reports on ailments like malaria in order to cheat people of money.

“You go into a clinic for a test may be you are feeling [a] headache, and they will subject you to a lab test, but because they want money they will show results which show that you have malaria, so as to get money from you even when you don’t have the fever” he says.

“The government is spearheading the regulation of laboratory services; this is being done in Uganda for the first time especially with much emphasis on private laboratories. We have been doing it in large laboratories like Ebenezer and hospitals but now we want to include even small clinics which serve majority of our population.”

The Assistant Commissioner for Integrated Curative Services Dr Jackson Amone says that laboratories that do not measure to the Uganda National Laboratory Policy will be closed.

“Most of the laboratories are going to be closed and re-registered in this policy. We are going to assess them and if they don’t measure to the standards we shall close them. We don’t want laboratories where everyone in town who goes to test is diagnosed with typhoid.”

Effective laboratory services are an essential component of a functional health care system and this is because laboratories provide confirmatory diagnosis, contribute to improved management of disease, provide essential public health information for disease surveillance and contribute immensely to research.

However, laboratory services in many resource limited settings are not effectively regulated, leaving them open to offer substandard services to the population.

Amone says “Excellent medical laboratories are vital to ensure accurate diagnoses and to identify pathology at early disease stages which can save people’s money and time spent attending health facilities.”

Ssebuufu notes that for quality services labs must be run by people who are qualified and encouraged those running them to have the right qualifications.

“Many of the lab attendants never went to school, a good number are not registered with the council (AHPC).We want people in the labs to have the required qualification if you are running a lab and don’t have qualifications stop now” Ssebuufu said.

“The community should be positive to this cause, report all those running laboratories illegally. It is for the benefit of all of us. Health is me and you” he said.

In Uganda majority of treatment decisions are based on clinical judgment and empiric diagnoses where one looks at you or listens to your description of your symptons and then administer drugs. This approach can be dangerous.

Amone revealed that Uganda is moving towards evidence-based medicine administration which requires more attention to be turned to labs.

“We now want to move to evidence based medicine where one is treated and administered medicines on facts, not on guess work like it used to be where one would be feeling hot and would be given Chloroquine because he or she is thought to be having fever. This must stop” Amone said.

He said when people are treated on evidence from the lab it saves money and time that people spend in health facilities.

“When you get the right medication it will save you money and time that you will spend in health facilities because you will heal fast, this will also help you make economic gains in the long run” Amone.

AHPC is a corporate body established by the Allied Health Professionals Act to regulate, supervise, control and enforce standards of training and practice of Allied Health Professionals in order to effectively contribute to a healthy and productive life for Ugandans.

Amone told the Observer that the ministry of health are in the process of opening up regional lab offices to help clamp down on those who are running without the required standards.

Ssebuufu says “Central Public Health Laboratories (CPHL) will be in charge of all public laboratories but as AHPC we shall be coming in to see that they have qualified personnel, and work to the standards.”

Many public labs are in appalling state, with limited space and poor infrastructure, which needs to be improved. Though there’s poor infrastructure and equipment in most labs in the country Amone says that the government is set to revamp the state and improve it.

“If we are to progress well with our aim of having evidence based medicine we need to have functional laboratories which need to be strengthened and the government is set to do this” Amone said.

Dr Steven Aisu the Head of CPHL encouraged health workers to treat people on evidence based medicine.

“If you are treating malaria, be in position to know that this organism is the one that has brought the disease. Clinicians and lab technicians use the labs not guess work” Aisu said.

He urged the hospitals to always involve laboratory staff members in the planning and management meetings of the hospitals.