Health centres in urgent need of lab experts
Posted Tuesday, August 14 2012 at 17:42
- Shortage of lab technicians in public facilities hampers diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
- Past attempts to address the shortage were shelved because policy makers deemed them too expensive.
- The malaria control programme issued new guidelines for treating the disease which discourages prescription of first line drugs without confirmatory lab diagnosis.
Last week, the umbrella body for medical laboratory technicians issued a strike threat on behalf of its members citing unfulfilled pledges from last year’s return-to-work formula.
The important role this cadre of health workers play is often undervalued.
As we embark on healthcare reforms, they will play a big role in helping to deliver efficient healthcare. Presently, many of our primary medical facilities lack laboratory technicians. Past attempts to address the shortage were shelved because policy makers deemed them too expensive.
Their representatives should also demand an increase of its employed members. As it stands there are many qualified but unemployed technicians.
Why do we need to raise their numbers?
A month or so ago, the malaria control programme issued new guidelines for treating the disease. This discourages prescription of first line drugs without confirmatory lab diagnosis.
In many rural facilities, malaria is treated on clinical suspicion and the high use of anti-malarials is no secret. Of course this model was meant to avoid pitfalls of waiting for a lab diagnosis because there was none in the first place.
The high cost of these drugs means such approaches were unsustainable. Just last week, reports suggest that the local subsidised funding for the drugs may be reduced or stopped altogether.
This is sad but on a positive note it will necessitate measures to reduce the programme’s costs. While the guidelines have reduced the use of malaria drugs it remains to be seen if this will also be accompanied by lesser morbidity.
From an economic perspective the question is whether the now recommended lab tests cost is lower than the old system.
Unfortunately, this new policy only targets malaria. What about other conditions that are managed empirically. Would similar guidelines help?
If so, why not make it a policy for all conditions to be laboratory diagnosed? Some of us argue it is better off to downsize the clinical side and increase the number of lab technicians.
Of course in the end it makes economic sense. The cost of mismanaging a condition that was not detected earlier on quadruples in a short while.
The new shift in thinking indicates that labs will help reduce costs and deliver quality healthcare.
As usual, the issue of lab equipment’s high costs will be raised. However I believe that novel approaches can win. Many suppliers are willing to partner in delivery of affordable and sustainable lab services in the rural public facilities.