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By Goodluck Musinguzi

The Ministry of Health using World Bank funds is determined to build laboratory systems in Uganda that will stand the test of time than it was when Covid19 pandemic was declared in March 2020. Under the Uganda Covid-19 Response and Emergency Preparedness Project (UCREPP) close to shs4 billion has been identified to build a state-of-the-art laboratory at Lira Regional Referral Hospital in Lango Region.

Hon Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, Minister of Health launched the construction works on 6th April 2023 in Lira City at a function that attracted hundreds of people who came to witness this progress. She said the Biosafety Level II satellite laboratory would complement the already existing microbiology laboratory which is currently offering liver and renal function tests, prostate surface antigen, haematology, thyroid function tests, histopathology, and other specialized tests.

“This bigger laboratory will have additional rooms for laboratory personnel and other cadres in advanced technologies. Upon completion, it will handle epidemic outbreaks and emergencies, especially in collecting samples in Northern Uganda to be referred to the National Reference laboratories at Butabika, UVRI Entebbe and others”, Hon Aceng said.

Northern Uganda must be helped to build an independent laboratory and diagnostics capacity so that there is continuity of services and be part of Uganda’s health systems strengthening under the Ministry of Health. When Covid19 pandemic broke out globally Laboratory services became the cornerstone for countries that had built capacity.

UCREPP( The Uganda Covid-19 Response and Emergency Preparedness Project) was developed by the Ministry of Health and the World Bank to give the government enough resources to address the rapid rise of Covid19. It is supposed to build the resilience of Uganda in dealing with future emergencies.

Dr Nathan Onyachi, the Lira Regional Referral Hospital Director, said that the construction of the laboratory will significantly enhance research capabilities at the hospital and the region.

“We are happy with this investment in Lango Region as it will improve the testing capacity of our laboratories from 60% to 90%. This means patients will take less time to receive their results”, said Dr Onyachi.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the request of private health actors, the government opened up the testing and treatment for COVID-19 to private actors, accrediting some private health facilities to treat COVID-19.

The private sector played a role in the testing and treatment of COVID-19 patients. However, the fees for services offered were high and unaffordable for most people. The Government of Uganda with support from the World Bank Group designed a project (UCREPP) to address these challenges Dr Diana Atwine, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health says Uganda and other African countries must build laboratory systems so that when it comes to epidemics partners can support us but we must have complete control.

“We must have the zeal to build and prioritize laboratory services, and skills for workers. Laboratories must be a factor for the survival of the fittest, especially Africans” said Dr Diana Atwine

Dr Michael Mwanga, the Coordinator of UCREPP says the project still remains extremely relevant because the needs alluded to above have not gone away from Uganda.

“Though COVID-19 has subsided, there is a need to focus now on the continuity of services and health systems strengthening in the country”, said Dr Mwanga

The project needs to continue giving support to the health sector in order that it may leave the health system and the structures that propel the health service delivery in a much better status than it was when COVID-19 invaded the country.

Dr Charles Olaro, the Director of Curative Services at the Ministry of Health, explained that the laboratory is significant in managing outbreaks and emergencies, which is why the Ministry is decentralizing laboratory services in various areas.

Patricia Akello Anok, a Laboratory Scientist at the Ministry of Health, believes that the satellite laboratory will improve the functionality of the laboratory by over 30% through improved testing of patients.

The BSL-2 laboratory at Lira Regional Referral Hospital will be the fourth satellite laboratory in the country, with the other three located in Arua, Mbale, and Mbarara.

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