NTD Laboratory Network
Because limited laboratory capacity is an increasingly significant obstacle to meeting global control and elimination targets for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), a group of donors, implementing partners, national programs, and the World Health Organization (WHO) have come together in support development of a new NTD Laboratory Network in Sub-Saharan Africa. When fully functional, the lab network aims to provide the following services to the NTD community:
- Ensure availability and use of standardized laboratory protocols for diagnostic tests and laboratory reagents
- Implement and maintain a laboratory quality assurance system
- Introduce and manage a laboratory network communication system for sharing experience, protocols and results
- Work with partners and regional laboratories to facilitate specimen processing when national lab capacity is unavailable
Initially, the NTD Laboratory Network is targeting the urgent laboratory needs of the global onchocerciasis (River Blindness) program; it may expand over time to include laboratory support for other NTDs.
NTD Laboratory Coordinating Bureau (NLCB)
To serve as a coordinating hub for the NTD Laboratory Network, the NTD Laboratory Coordinating Bureau was established in January 2019 and currently supported by USAID. It comprises representatives from the NTD Support Center at The Task Force for Global Health (TFGH-Atlanta); the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC-USA); and the World Health Organization (WHO: Geneva, African Regional Office [ESPEN], and the NTD Collaborating Centers). Although management will initially based at TFGH, by 2021 the NLCB and its coordinating function are expected to transition fully to African partners for future management.
The NLCB supports the NTD Laboratory Network through:
- Facilitating establishment of a quality-assurance/quality-control mechanism for national laboratories engaged in the analysis of diagnostics for onchocerciasis and other NTDs
- Developing a communication network among all stakeholders involved with laboratory analysis of samples essential for national NTD programmatic decision-making (mapping, stopping treatment, surveillance etc.) and for operational research
- Coordinating NTD laboratory-associated activities and trainings, as feasible
Since the laboratories initially identified during the first phase of network development are those that have been involved in testing for onchocerciasis for many years, they already have appreciable expertise with these analyses. Together with our technical and funding partners, the NLCB’s immediate goal is to ensure that these laboratories are appropriately coordinated with respect to training, implementing and maintaining quality assurance/quality control laboratory performance so that they can provide accurate results to onchocerciasis and other NTD programs to make robust programmatic decisions.
The longer-term goal of the NLCB is to increase the overall capacity of African-based laboratories to support NTD programs. Between 2019 and 2023 – resources permitting – other national laboratories will be added to this NTD-focused laboratory network, and tests for additional NTDs will be incorporated.
Joining the NTD Laboratory Network
Any Africa-based laboratory with a current focus on onchocerciasis or other NTD testing can become part of the NTD laboratory network. The current criteria for inclusion as an “approved” onchocerciasis NLCB laboratory focus on standardization of agreed ‘best practices;’ these include:
- Training on the onchocerciasis ELISA or other PCR diagnostics, and/or lab-based RDTs
- Adherence to the recommended QC/QA guidelines and protocols
- Willingness to participate in a communication network including other labs and partners
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For more information on the NLCB, please contact us at email@example.com.