“Workforce is a common weakness we find in health systems… it is a significant gap and that ratio alone says a lot,” said ASLM chair of directors Trevor Peter.
He was addressing the International Congress on Infectious Diseases in Cape Town.
Peter said less than 500 labs across Africa were accredited to international standards. Ninety percent of these were based in South Africa.
Labs did also not have stringent regulatory standards and there were few fully functional national public health reference labs and networks.
Peters said they had set various goals to be achieved by 2020. These included training 30,000 laboratory professionals and clinicians and accrediting 250 labs by international standards.
“These goals are stretch goals and like many regional goals are aspirational, but they may well be achievable.”
He emphasised that diagnostic tools in laboratories were critical to fighting HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis.
“We are currently in the golden age in terms of the importance of diagnostics and how diagnostics have been applied to disease control.”
He said increased funding into HIV/Aids and malaria had supported the use of new diagnostic technology. With first generation technology, professionals had used rapid test strips, dipsticks and simple instruments to test urine, oral fluid and blood samples.
Progress in second generation technology allowed them to detect whole cells, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) or RNA (ribonucleic acid) and determine CD4 cell count, HIV viral load, and diagnose TB and potential drug resistance.
Peters spoke of third generation technology where, in the future, one would be able to breathe into a piece of equipment and get fully-automated testing and analysis.
One would then be able to do antiretroviral and antibiotic drug-resistance screening and home-based testing.