Meet Ahmed, National Specimen Manager for laboratories in Sierra Leone. He lost his elder sister Hawa, a laboratory technician who worked for the Kenema Government Hospital, to the Ebola Virus Disease. Hawa didn’t have the safety equipment she needed to do her work while handling blood samplings during the peak of the Ebola outbreak in the Eastern District of Sierra Leone.
“Since the day I lost my sister, I vowed to use my expertise to save more lives despite the numerous challenges I was facing” says Ahmed.
As one of the few lead laboratory experts in the country, Ahmed had to use his own personal vehicle to transport Ebola test specimen from Freetown to the Kenema laboratory. Before the Ebola virus struck the small West African country, the Directorate of laboratory services didn’t have any specific means to transport specimen. His vehicle was the only source of transportation. According to Ahmed, the World Health Organisation provided support for the cost of fuel, whilst transporting Ebola blood samples from Freetown to the Kenema laboratory, but he had to cover the costs of accommodation and food himself whilst living away from home. “I had little support by then, but I sacrificed” said Ahmed.
Samba went on to explain that when he arrived in Kenema with his samples, people stigmatized him.
“I was refused accommodation several times and had to sleep in my vehicle” he said.
The intervention of Options’ Laboratory System Strengthening Project, funded by DFID, has helped to restore hope and dignity in the Sierra Leone laboratory systems, Ahmed said.
“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 through Options’ support”.
By the end of 2014, with support from Options, a National Courier System was set up with Ahmed as the National Coordinator. The purpose of the courier system was to take samples and transport them across the country. The western area has five couriers, and Bo and Moyamba in the south have three each, including their drivers. In addition to this, Options also supported the formation of the Project Shield Courier System to conduct testing for Ebola survivors.
The Laboratory Liaison Officers (LLOs) attached to all six Ebola laboratories across the country, were selected by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. Options has been providing support for district laboratory supervisions, including the training of swobbers, drivers and LLOs working on the Laboratory System Strengthening Project.
Ahmed said that one of the added values Options has implemented, is the turnaround time for sample results; previously it was over 48 hours to receive results, now that has been reduced to one day.
“I am proud to inform you that, with support from Options, we now have the capacity to provide timely result communications in terms of Ebola tests” Ahmed revealed.
Options works directly with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, supporting them in monitoring and evaluation, data management, and coordination of partners to ensure cost effectiveness in service delivery.
During the launch of the Sierra Leone National Rapid Assessment of Laboratory Capacity and Systems, and the Volume I of the Standard Operation Procedures for laboratories in Sierra Leone, the Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr. Abu Bakarr Fofonah recognised the need to strengthen the country’s laboratory system;
“Our Ministry has undertaken a rapid assessment of laboratory capacity and systems. The assessment provides comprehensive insight into the current status of laboratories. The findings contained in this report provide insight into existing laboratory capacities in the country, and factors that need to be addressed for the long term improvement of the laboratory system. One of the priorities indicated by the assessment is the need for standardised laboratory Standard Operating Procedures, which is the other document being launched at today’s event”.
He ended his speech by saying;
“The Ministry wishes to commend leadership provided by the Directorate of Hospital and Laboratory Services, in particular by Dr Lebby. We would also like to thank DFID for providing funding and technical support through Options Consultancy Services Ltd. We are confident that this document will prove to be an essential resource in making decisions regarding how to strengthen our laboratory services in a way that will benefit the health and well-being of the people in Sierra Leone.”
Dr. Matt Lebby the Director of Laboratory Services, said in the past, laboratory services had not been prioritised. The Government placed priority on addressing maternal mortality, infant mortality and recently in 2010 the Free Health Care Initiative. In all of these, little attention was placed on improving the laboratory systems, until the Ebola outbreak. He disclosed that to address the reduction of maternal mortality and infant deaths, equipping laboratory systems is vital to diagnose and provide quality treatment to women and children.
He continued to explain that Ebola caught the country unprepared, but laboratories played a key role in the Ebola fight. Ebola cannot be diagnosed without a laboratory. Since Options had been working with the health sector prior to the Ebola outbreak, we were about to support the formation of the Laboratory Technical Working Group (LTWG) that was stationed at the National Ebola Response Centre and played a key role to the Ebola response process.
Since the end of the epidemic, Options is now supporting the Ministry in strengthening laboratory services not only to respond to Ebola but other clinical diagnostic services. As a result of this, a report has been launched which looks at the comprehensive status of laboratory services across the country. This document has formed the basis through which the Ministry is developing a National Strategic Plan for laboratory services in Sierra Leone.
According Dr. Lebby, Options provided great amounts of their technical support to develop and publish the report.
“I can safely say, our lab technicians are better trained to handle clinical tests and present accurate result in less than 24 hours”.