Kampala laboratories do not meet standards

A laboratory technician takes blood sample from a patient for testing. PHOTO BY YUSUF MUZIRANSA.

What you need to know:

Only 45 out of the 954 labs surveyed meet minimum WHO standards.


At the Ntinda New Market, there are at least four clinical laboratories. They are housed in tiny rooms, not larger than eight by 10 feet, while the testing area can hardly accommodate a microscope and the person operating it.

Some of the laboratories have ‘registration’ placards hanging on their walls; an indication that they were surveyed and do meet standards. It is not uncommon to find such small laboratories in markets, slums or any untidy surrounding around Kampala usually testing for common diseases such as malaria, typhoid or HIV.

A malaria test in these small laboratories can go for as low as Shs3,000 and that is a good private hospital laboratory can be anywhere above Shs15,000 an amount not many Ugandans can afford to spend.

Much as these laboratories may give cheap services to the population, a new report says only five per cent of laboratories in Kampala meet the standards defined by the World Health Organisation/ African Region (WHO/AFRO).

Of the 954 laboratories surveyed when the study commenced in 2011, only 45 met the standards which are based on size in terms of number of tests done in a day, staff training, required number of staff and registration by the government.

The study titled, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown: Quality of Clinical Laboratories in Kampala, Uganda’ published by Plos One medical Journal in May, found that only one laboratory, the National TB Reference Laboratory, was a five star. Mulago hospital laboratory had four stars and only 45 labs in Kampala at least had a star or more. Some 909 (95.3 per cent) had no star at all.

The best performing laboratories were those publicly owned and associated with the Ministry of Health. According to the study, most laboratories in developing countries fall far short of these accreditation standards, despite the fact that the developing countries have the highest rates of non-communicable diseases which require laboratory tests.

A modified version of the WHO/AFRO Laboratory Strengthening Checklist was used to obtain baseline measures of quality for all clinical laboratories.

The study
Each region was assigned two to three surveyors who identified and surveyed laboratories in their respective regions; in person and on foot. Dr Alex Opio, the assistant commissioner National Disease Control at the Ministry of Health, and also one of the authors of the report, said a laboratory not having any star does not mean that they are not fit to operate. He said the study was carried out to help the laboratories elevate to recommended standards.

Ms Margaret Mungerera, the president of the World Medical Association, said although laboratory services in Uganda are improving, any breakdown in the service means that people will not get the correct treatment and diagnosis since this all depends on laboratory results.


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