Africa CDC Southern Africa RCC in Zambia Hosts the Regional Laboratory systems and Networks Meeting

Photo credit: David Phiri – ZNPHI Group photo
On May 2 to 4, 2018 the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Southern Africa Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) with support from the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) played host to the Southern Africa Regional Member States Meeting on Strengthening Laboratory Systems and Networks for Surveillance. The meeting was organized by the Africa CDC in collaboration with the Africa Society for Laboratory Medicine. The meeting had participants drawn from the ministries of health in the ten Southern Africa member states namely; Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The meeting was officially opened by Hon. Dr Chitalu Chilufya the Minister of Health in Zambia who reiterated the need for strong, comprehensive laboratory systems in combating disease outbreaks. “The purpose of our meeting is to identify, prioritise and agree on effective measures for strengthening our national and regional laboratory systems, improving laboratory quality standards and promoting networks and linkages for services and resources sharing,” he said.
The main aim of the meeting was to identify, prioritise and push for effective measures for strengthening laboratory systems at both national and regional levels. The meeting also aimed to improve the laboratory quality standards as well as enhance networks and linkages for regional laboratory services sharing.
Significance of StrengtheningLaboratory Systems and Networks for Surveillance
In disease surveillance, comprehensive and quality laboratory services are the cornerstones of ensuring accuracy of diagnosis for effective case management. This is important in both clinical care and public health emergency responses particularly with the rising disease burden that occur within the continent.
Over the years, significant strides have been made strengthening the existing systems in Africa. However, it has not been easy considering the rate at which emerging infectious diseases, health threats have been recorded. Similarly, the challenge of limited resources has slowed down the process in the continent. In 2014 the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa was an eye opener on the urgent need to strengthen health, diagnostic response and reporting systems in Africa. The outbreak costed the continent about USD15billion in loses according to the World Bank.
Under this context, it is imperative to have collaborative efforts in mapping out existing laboratory capacities within the continent. Consequently, this will lead to practical solutions that will facilitate the quality improvement of laboratory system while t the same time promoting networking and sharing of regional laboratory services. Well defined networks will enhance cross boarder specimen transportation for diagnostic testing and meet the revised International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) linked to laboratory capabilities.
Speaking during the opening ceremony while welcome the delegates, Dr Victor Mukonka the Director at ZNPHI, reaffirmed the commitment of the Government of Zambia in establishing a strong laboratory systems and networks pillar of the Africa CDC. “The mapping of assets within the region cannot be overemphasized as this will strengthen cross boarder surveillance within the region,” he said.
This regional meeting also attracted the presence of key health partners including World Health Organization (WHO) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)who pledged their support in Africa CDC activities including the establishment of national public health institute’s for early detection of disease threats.
During the meeting member states worked on an implementation plan based on the laboratory mapping tools developed and amended in partnership with ASLM. Subsequently, the countries will develop Terms of Reference (ToR) for laboratory mapping in preparation for rolling it out mid-2018.
About the Africa CDC
Africa CDC is an Africa owned Institution that aims to address priority public health concerns in Africa; primarily through prevention and, where needed, through detection and response. It also serves as a platform for Member States to share knowledge, build capacity, and provide technical assistance to each other.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has been established as a Specialized Technical Agency of the African Union, which was endorsed by the AU Heads of States and Governments (AU HoSG) through Assembly Decision /AU/Dec.554 (XXIV). In pursuant to Article24of its Statute (approved:Assembly Decision /AU/Dec.589 (XXVI)) which states that among its strategic objectives, the Africa CDC shall“In the execution of its strategic work plan, Regional Collaborating Centres (RCC) shall support the Africa CDC. The collaboration and support of the Regional Collaborating Centres is to ultimately bring into reality an “Africa CDC without walls” that supports the continent at the point of need, rather than from a centralized, distant location”.  The Africa CDC has established a RCC in Zambia for the southern Africa region.
The Africa CDC has the legal mandate to support Member States in their capacity to respond to public health emergencies and strengthen health systems and will execute these interventions in collaboration with the Regional Collaborating Centres. Africa CDC as a Specialised Technical Agency of the Africa Union Commission will work closely with Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to execute this mandate to ensure that Members States have strengthened capacity and expertise to respond to emergency and matters of public health concern. The RCC will play a fundamental role in ensuring that Africa CDC’s strategies are well implemented in the region through forming Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Network (RISLNET).  The network will ensure existing public health assets within regions are harnessed leading improvement in surveillance and control of endemic conditions.