PEPFAR-supported biomedical engineering partnership graduates four from this year-long training program, commissions new National Laboratory Equipment Calibration Center

WASHINGTON, DC, August 18, 2017 — The American International Health Alliance (AIHA) this week concluded the third and final phase of a year-long biological safety cabinet calibration and certification (BSCC) training program in Uganda. Four local biomedical engineers were trained through the program and a new National Laboratory Equipment Calibration Center was commissioned.

This BSCC training represents an important step forward in Uganda’s efforts to build the local capacity it needs to ensure this essential equipment remains calibrated and certified. An integral part of laboratory systems, biological safety cabinets (BSCs) protect lab personnel, products, and the environment from exposure to biohazards and cross-contamination during routine procedures – but only if they are certified, maintained, and used as recommended by international standards. Across the African continent, there is limited capacity to conduct this crucial work, which negatively impacts the safety and can pose serious health risks. As Uganda works to attain the global 90-90-90 targets, BSCs are an essential piece of equipment for reaching the third 90 used in viral load testing. They are used to ensure the safety of the preparation process for dry blood spot samples for viral load testing and monitoring.

“You have not given us fish, but you have taught us how to fish and given us the fishing rod,” said Dr. Diana Atwiine, Permanent Secretary of Uganda’s Ministry of Health. “I commend AIHA for addressing this critical need in the country and building our capacity to work towards freeing us from the exorbitant reliance we have placed on outside entities for many years.”

Working in partnership with the Ministry of Health’s Central Public Health Laboratories (CPHL), Health Infrastructure Division (HID), and the Eagleson Institute in Sanford, Maine, AIHA supported this comprehensive BSCC training as part of an in-service biomedical engineering program launched in 2015 with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Uganda. In addition, AIHA supported the team in their assessments of nearly 80 BSCs during 15 rounds of field practicum, which took place between each phase of training to ensure full comprehension and acquisition of hands-on skills.

At the same time, AIHA and CPHL commissioned a new National Laboratory Equipment Calibration Center on the Uganda National Health Laboratory Services campus in Kampala. This facility will serve as a national reference center for the calibration of laboratory equipment across the country, which is critical as Uganda works to have more of its medical labs accredited. This is a component that has often been outsourced to the private sector at a high expense, both in Uganda and internationally. In response, AIHA is working to build the capacity of the staff who will be assigned to the new center with the goal of attaining ISO17025-2005 accreditation. Dr. Atwiine and other Ministry officials, along with U.S. Government donors and other development partners, attended the center’s opening.

“Gone are the days when accuracy of equipment used to be assumed. The launching of this new calibration center will allow our laboratories to ensure increased accuracy in the quality of results offered to the Ugandan population,” said AIHA Uganda Program Coordinator Abdul Mutaka. “By building our internal capacity, Uganda will now have the technical expertise to conduct timely and cost-effective calibration of our equipment.”

CPHL National Laboratory Logistics Coordinator Wilson Nyegenye agreed, saying, “A small key can open a very big lock. AIHA has opened the lock and opened the door for improving laboratory services in the country as we move towards accreditation.”

In close collaboration with the Ministry’s CPHL and HID, AIHA is taking a step-wise approach to build capacity of biomedical engineers and equipment technicians across the country, with a particular focus on laboratory equipment critical to the HIV clinical cascade. Starting with non-automated equipment, AIHA is addressing all levels of lab equipment as we build the capacity of these biomedical engineers and equipment technicians in this specialized field. This equipment often requires costly service contracts, but there are a limited number of service contractors in the country. Through this program, AIHA and our partners are strengthening this cadre at government facilities with the goal of decreasing equipment downtime and maintenance costs and increasing timely, accurate test results.

Noting that through a partnership approach with both the public and private sectors, AIHA is working to address these bottlenecks to ensure equipment functionality and the timely provision of diagnostic services, AIHA Acting Country Director for Uganda Silas Goldfrank said, “AIHA looks forward to continuing to support the Ministry of Health, CPHL, and HID in building the capacity of personnel in this essential technical area. We are dedicated to working in partnership with the Ministry to build local ownership to ensure continued sustainability in strengthening the health system nationally.”