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National Health Labs Tackle Disease through Management

National health laboratory systems are on the frontlines of health the world over.  As a critical component to combating disease, laboratory systems must deliver reliable and efficient health services on tight resources; often achieved through standardized and tiered facility capabilities.

Health laboratories perform a wide variety of tests critical to identifying and treating major diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (TB). At a recent meeting on tuberculosis control in east Africa, the secretariat of the East African Community cited a lack of high quality laboratories as a barrier to addressing rising rates of TB infection in the region. National health laboratory systems have a central but dynamic role in improving the overall access and quality of healthcare and in administering targeted HIV and TB campaigns.

Data management and logistics are the basis for ensuring the quality of laboratory work and the flexibility and efficiency of the overall national health system.   Transporting patient samples, tracking test results and forwarding referrals all require a well-organized and well planned management and communications network. Two ways in which national lab systems streamline the development and operations of lab infrastructure are through tiered services and standardization.

  • Tiered services are based on a referral system, where laboratories are assigned different duties based on need and capacity. Common blood and urine tests, for example, can be performed by minimally trained personnel using low-energy, rapid assessments kits. Such tests can be performed at small primary care labs. Secondary and tertiary tier labs are fewer in number and offer more advanced capabilities, but require greater human capacity and energy supply.
  • Standardization is made possible by defining the testing capacity, and therefore the energy, material and human needs, of tiered health laboratories. Often, standardization applies to the types and quantities of test to be performed at each type of laboratory, as well as testing protocols and suppliers.

Similar standardization is also possible for laboratory energy systems, for example, by defining facility loads, backup capacity or equipment suppliers for different system tiers. USAID’s Improving Health Facility Infrastructure program (IHFI) has undertaken several initiatives to enhance the overall provision of energy for health labs through standardization and best practices energy management.

  • IHFI provides back-up power for labs in Haiti based on standard design criteria and equipment manufacturers.
  • IHFI also implements standardized and tiered training courses on battery and generator maintenance for hospital energy technicians.
  • In Guyana, IHFI is installing standardized PV power systems in remote health facilities based on common facility loads.
  • IHFI has supported Zambia’s national health laboratory energy specialist through energy management training.

The principle of standardization is broadly recognized as being fundamental to the development of national health systems and to mounting testing and vaccination campaigns. Careful planning and monitoring must go into the development of a national health lab system in order to ensure timely, high quality and cost-effective service. The same level of oversight should be applied to the energy needs of standardized health facilities. Efforts made to ramp up the human and diagnostic capability of health labs through training and new equipment must also consider the energy supply and backup power needs that facilitate and protect those investments.

The Powering Health Stories blog brings you current trends in the worlds of health, energy and development, as well as features on current work being undertaken by USAID.  If you have a story that you would like us to cover or one that you would like to contribute, contact us This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. !