Medical researchers and laboratory professionals in West Africa have asked for state support for local manufacturing of laboratory equipment and materials, test kits and reagents for the domestic markets.
They said the support must aim to address the myriad of challenges local start-ups face to help unleash potentials in the health laboratory sector and move the sub region towards self-sufficiency in the production of medical devices.
In a communiqué issued in Accra after this year’s CelebrateLAB® West Africa (CLWA) conference, the laboratory scientists mentioned funding, undue competition from the state and its agencies, higher taxes and duties, currency fluctuations and cumbersome regulatory processes as some of the challenges that needed to be addressed to boost growth in the laboratory services value chain.
The professionals thus urged governments in the sub-region to use their respective state power to stabilise currency fluctuations, reduce taxes and import duties as well as streamline the cumbersome regulatory procedures, which they said were stricter for local businesses and startups than foreign ones.
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The communiqué was issued after two days of deliberations on how to advance the fortunes of the sector to improve health outcomes in the region. It was signed by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Africabio Enterprises, Inc., Ms Candace B. Eastman; the President of the Ghana Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists (GAMLS), Dr Abu Abudu Rahamani; Air Cdre Edward Abayomi Akinwale (Retd), the Laboratory Quality Assurance Manager and Mr Henry M. Jackson, Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine.
In support of the US Military HIV Research Programme (MHRP) and Emerging Infectious Disease Branch (EIDB), for the CLWA Conference Ambassadors.
According to the communique, the conference, organised by the Africabio Enterprises in partnership with GAMLS and co-hosted by the Ghana Health Service and Akai House Clinic, discussed ways to strengthen diagnostics across West Africa to improve health outcomes.
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The communiqué said at the end of the conference, participants identified financing as a major barrier to sustaining the value chain in the health laboratory sector in the sub-region and thus affirmed that creating and sustaining value chain would help to create efficiency and effectiveness in the healthcare laboratory to ensure quality.
“The conference called on governments in the sub-region to re-prioritise and increase budgetary allocations for health care, science and technology. The governments must support local innovations and manufacturing of laboratory equipment, materials, test kits and reagents.
“Countries need to support growth stage of start-ups through tax waivers and other assistance that makes the environment conducive for business to thrive,” the communiqué said.
In this regard, delegates encouraged regulatory bodies to work with start-ups to expedite regulatory requirements to encourage local production.
It further proposed that regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO), the Africa Union (AU) and the Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) should be brought on board to help develop a harmonised system that enabled local innovation and production to thrive.
The communique called on sub regional governments to urgently review key national laboratory policies to balance COVID-19 response. “We believe that proper planning and implementation of key national laboratory policies coupled with appropriate quality management system and leadership are key to stronger laboratory systems. We call for the development and implementation of policies on quality and competence in health laboratory, and the involvement of laboratory professionals in policies pertaining to laboratory operations,” it said.
It also proposed the development of a waste management programme that involves segregation, for implementation at all laboratory levels, and training of laboratory personnel and cleaners in waste management, to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
“The Conference bemoaned the grave lack of research capacity in Africa, especially in the area of sequencing, and stressed the need for urgent attention through deliberate policies. The conference also proposed regional collaboration in surveillance that involves systematic and robust genomic testing, for identification of infectious pathogens,” it said.
The delegates emphasized the need for research in health and called on governments in the subregion to commit resources into research, especially in the medical field. “We stressed the need for collaboration in research among African countries. We believe that African governments must take decisions based on local research, and not just copy the western,” it said.
The conference also called for the setting up of sub regional regulatory body that was focused on health laboratory improvement and accreditation agenda.
“The Conference called on governments in the sub region to re-prioritise and increase budgetary allocations for health care, science and technology in line with the tenets of Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development adopted by heads of state and government 2015. A regional and national investment of about 5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in surveillance systems and pandemic preparedness interventions was proposed by delegates as an immediate action.”
The CLWA is an annual meeting for research and medical laboratory professionals in the sub region usually held during the international laboratory professionals’ week in April. It was attended by research and laboratory scientists, physicians, innovators, policy makers, regulatory bodies and representatives of regional bodies such as World Health Organisation (WHO) and Africa CDC.