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‘Why Nigeria loses grants for HIV, clinical trials’

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MORE reasons have been adduced for Nigerian laboratories’ continued misdiagnose and under-diagnose of life threatening ailments and the country losing grants for

clinical trials for Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), tuberculosis and malaria vaccines worth hundreds of billions of naira in foreign exchange.

Among the reasons are: poor quality management systems in laboratories, as, of the over 6,000 laboratories in the country, only two have International Standard Organisation (ISO) accreditation compared to 312 in South Africa; and that no Nigerian laboratory is certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for clinical trials for vaccines.

To address this situation, the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), with support from the International Association of National Public Health Institute (IANPHI) in Atlanta, United States, the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organisation (WHO) African Region (AFRO), has begun a programme tagged “Strengthening Laboratory Management Towards Accreditation (SLMTA).”

Director-General of NIMR, Dr. Innocent Ujah, and Coordinator Research, Planning and Management at NIMR, Dr. Oni Idigbe, told The Guardian that SLMTA was going to ensure that Nigerian laboratories get ISO accreditation and WHO certification.

Idigbe said accreditation “is a process of ensuring that the quality management systems of any laboratory meet international standards.” He pointed out that the implications “are that for such laboratories, their quality management systems will meet international standards, results from such laboratories will always be credible and accepted internationally.”

He continued: “Our laboratories must have SLAMTA accreditation with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Under the laboratory accreditation generally you have to develop SOPs for everything. All of these things are not done so the frequency of misdiagnosis in Nigeria was getting too much that it was becoming alarming and becoming a problem to everybody. Once laboratories are accredited, this will minimize the number and frequency of misdiagnosis and under diagnosis.

“Another area where laboratory accreditation is crucial is in the flow of grants into Africa. You will find out that 80 per cent to 90 per cent of grants that come into Africa go to South Africa because most granting countries now will want to give their money to laboratories that are accredited because they know that the results that are coming from whatever they are doing are credible, they are authentic and they can stand the test of time,” Idigbe said.

On how much Nigeria is losing in terms of grants to South Africa and other African countries like Kenya that have ISO accredited and WHO certified laboratories, Idigbe said: “Right now, there is a global race for development of new vaccines. We are racing towards developing an effective vaccine for TB, HIV and malaria, and even the existing vaccines, there is move for improving them. The same thing goes for drugs, for test kits and reagents.

“For any agency to want to develop their drugs and go through clinical trials, they will not put their money in laboratories that are not accredited. So you find that 80 per cent of clinical trials of drugs we use in Nigeria are going on in South Africa.”

He continued: “These are all because they have accredited laboratories. I do not know how much Nigeria is missing but I can say for clinical trials for vaccines, the South Africans have $35 to $40 million. Nigeria does not get even one. So those are the issues.

“You see these grants come with their own roll off effects. Like if you get the grants, you have to employ people, you improve the infrastructure of your lab, you build the capacity. The entire place is developed, you have funds because some of these grants even come with over heads so you have some other funds to plough into other components of health care delivery and it strengthens health care.”

Ujah said it became more critical for Nigerian laboratories to get ISO accreditation and WHO certification when a document presented in the last launching of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine showed that out of the 348 laboratories that are accredited in the whole of Africa, 312 are in South Africa alone, four in Kenya, only two in Nigeria, and some African countries that don’t have at all. “Then we took interest to find out what the situation is in Nigeria. Directly from the Medical Laboratory Science Council (MLSC) we got statistics that there are well over 6,000 health laboratories in this country out of which only two are accredited. It gives cause for concern and that was what stimulated our interest that as an institute, we should be able to contribute towards enhancing the number of credible laboratories, laboratory accreditation and good quality management systems in the country,” Ujah said.

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