Clinical Lab Installed in Shipping Container for AIDS Testing in Africa
Posted Jul 31 2009 11:45am
One the most significant barriers to delivering basic healthcare in many developing countries is the inability to perform even relatively simple clinical lab tests. An idea has been hatched by a South African private diagnostics lab to convert a standard shipping container into a turnkey AIDS testing facility is being copied across sub-Saharan Africa (see: Container AIDS labs could work across Africa ). Below is an excerpt from the article that provides more information about this project:
A lack of quality laboratory services in the world's poorest continent hampers the battle against HIV/AIDS, with the sub-Saharan Africa region hardest hit by the global pandemic which kills millions each year....Krista Thompson, general manager for global health at Becton Dickinson & Co, told Reuters on a site visit to Gugulethu township near Cape Town. Gugulethu is the site of the first containerized AIDS laboratory from Toga Labs, a private South African molecular diagnostics laboratory. BD supplies equipment to the lab.... Established in 2004, the Gugulethu lab provides testing for about 4,500 people on antiretroviral drugs, and is one of 10 operating in South Africa. Africa's strongest economy has one of the world's highest AIDS burdens with an estimated 1 in 5 infected out of a population of 47 million.... Des Martin, a director at Toga, told Reuters: "You can't have antiretroviral programs without laboratory support, its dangerous. So this provides the means for people who live very far away to have standard of care on their doorstep." He said diagnostics could be extended to include tests for tuberculosis, diabetes and other diseases. The United States President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief was supporting another five planned container labs in South Africa, two in Malawi, two in Zambia and one in Liberia, Martin said. Each fully equipped lab costs in the region of $250,000. The Gugulethu lab, run by a medical technologist and an administrator, processes an estimated 11,000 blood samples a year....
Clearly, HIV/AIDS testing will be the primary goal for the development of "containerized labs" similar to the one described here. Nevertheless, and as the article emphasizes, the test menu for such labs could be expanded to include lab testing for a broader set of diseases, infectious and otherwise. One of the advantages of bringing lab diagnostics to less developed countries in this way is that test results from such facilities could be plugged into clinical protocols and guide the treatment of a whole range of diseases even by minimally trained healthcare practitioners. Such turnkey labs could even possibly include a low-cost PC running LIS software. In a previous note, I discussed a web-based system that was deployed in the Peruvian national TB laboratory at low cost using the open-source medical record system OpenMRS (see: Deployment of a Web-Based LIS on a National Scale in Peru ).