ASLM Conference Spotlights Laboratory Systems relevance in Africa’s COVID-19 response

AFRICA – The African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) has announced its biennial conference, ASLM2021, which will take place virtually 15-18 November 2021 with the theme, ‘Responding to Outbreaks Through Resilient Laboratory Systems: Lessons Learnt from the COVID-19 Pandemic’.

The conference will be a celebration of ASLM’s 10th anniversary and feature world-renown leaders and cutting-edge research on critical issues facing African laboratories and laboratory professionals today and in the future.

Medical laboratory testing is vital for the early detection, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Every day, African laboratory systems must deal with multiple ongoing epidemics and competing health priorities. The frequent new disease outbreaks represent additional challenges in a context of scarce resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the critical importance of diagnostics, while it exposed every weakness in public policies and health response systems, not just in Africa, but across the globe. It also showed that the strong laboratory testing systems many African countries built for routine testing of HIV patients could be shifted to COVID-19 testing,” conference co-chair Prof Isatta Wurie said.

While some gaps still need to be addressed, African laboratory systems have made great strides in the last decade. These advances might have helped minimize the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.

For example, 10 countries have met or are close to meeting the UNAIDS fast track targets for reducing the HIV epidemic, which would be impossible without laboratory testing.

The continent has largely adopted innovative technologies, such as rapid and/or point-of-care testing. Combined with community outreach interventions, those innovations have transformed access to diagnostics for disease such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, especially for those in remote regions.

Building on these achievements, Africa demonstrated a well-coordinated scale up of COVID-19 testing in the initial phase of the pandemic.

Some countries in Africa are generating state-of-the-art genomics surveillance data on new variants of the virus, which have guided the COVID-19 vaccine strategy. Slowly but surely, diagnostic tests are being manufactured on the continent, contributing to improved access to testing, better health outcomes and thriving local economies.

‘You cannot fix your health system when you need it. You must fix your health system before you need it,’ said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and conference plenary speaker.

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