Technical workshops for the West African Network of Biomedical Analysis Laboratories (RESAOLAB): key figures in medical biology meet in Cotonou
Within the framework of the RESAOLAB project, the Mérieux Foundation organized technical workshops for network members in Cotonou from September 13th through 15th, 2023. The workshops were supported by the Benin Ministry of Health and the AFD and provided technical support for participants on external quality assessment in medical biology laboratories as part of the implementation of phase 3 of the RESAOLAB project.
Around 35 participants, including RESAOLAB’s key players and partners in Benin, Guinea, Senegal and Togo, came together as part of the RESAOLAB project, launched in 2019. The goals of the workshops were to provide technical support for network members on external quality assessment (EQA) in hematology and biochemistry and to visit laboratories at different levels of the health pyramid to share experience between RESAOLAB members.
Dr. Zohon, director of diagnostic exploration, opened the technical workshops in the presence of the coordinators, the project managers from the RESAOLAB member states, and representatives of the network’s partners. Several experts also took part in the workshops: one expert in hematology and one in biochemistry from each country, and two EQA experts from ProbioQual, an accredited French organization selected for the regional EQA program. The Mérieux Foundation was represented by experts of its own: Dr. François-Xavier Babin, director of diagnostics and laboratory systems, Prof. Jean Sakandé, the network coordinator, Nicolas Steenkeste, the biosafety, biosecurity and quality manager, and project officers based in West Africa who are working closely with ministries of health to implement the project.
Based on the initial results obtained from EQA surveys, the workshop alternated between plenary technical presentations on the principles of EQA and group work to analyze causes. These were followed by reporting sessions to define corrective measures to be taken in the participating laboratories and across the network. One specific session was devoted to defining an action plan to prepare a national EQA program in each country in the network and identifying the technical support needed to achieve this.
The meeting was also an opportunity for network members to review RESAOLAB’s new mode of governance, i.e. the first rotating presidency held by Benin and the handover to Guinea. The positive feedback from the Benin team is encouraging in terms of strengthening the bonds between countries and creating a lively network dynamic.
The project’s governance involves two international meetings per year, including one for the project’s international steering committee and the other for technical workshops. These meetings give network members the opportunity to address one or more issues relating to project activities.
“Thank you for the collaboration with the Mérieux Foundation, and thank you for the interesting exchanges with the network’s member countries during the External Quality Assessment activity.” Régine Cartier, Deputy President of the ProbioQual association.
“Thank you to Benin for your welcome and for organizing the workshops. Last time the team traveled to Benin, it was for the opening of the Diagnostic Exploration building in November 2021, a key moment in the life of RESAOLAB, and we can see the progress made since then with the creation of the diagnostic exploration department. RESAOLAB strengthens every area of medical biology and laboratory governance. The WHO resolution adopted at the last meeting highlighted the strengthening of laboratories as an essential component of the health system. This underlines the network’s purpose and confirms our commitment. I would like to send a message of solidarity to our colleagues in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and the healthcare workers in these countries for their work. The subject of these workshops is external quality assessment. Today, the cost of laboratory tests represents 2% of health spending, but these tests guide 70% of medical treatment decisions. It is thus essential that they are reliable and high-quality.” Dr. François-Xavier Babin, Director of International Operations.
“I would like to welcome everyone to Benin, which joined the network in 2013. This decision was based on the virtue of the project’s purpose of strengthening laboratories’ technical capacity in the countries. Without a robust laboratory system, there can be no effective health treatments for the population. I am also grateful to the Mérieux Foundation and the AFD for extending the project into its third phase in order to support the development of national laboratory policies. I am delighted with the results achieved in the different countries in the network and assure you of the ministry’s readiness to strengthen lab capacity in order to contribute to the well-being of the population.” Deputy Director of the office of Benin’s Minister of Health.
A system of medical biology laboratories providing high-quality services is an essential requirement for improving population health. RESAOLAB – the West African Network of Biomedical Analysis Laboratories – is the first regional program in West Africa to provide a response to this public health concern. Designed with West African healthcare stakeholders, it takes into consideration all the factors affecting the laboratories’ governance and performance. Its objective is to improve the quality of medical biology services in these seven West African countries, by reinforcing their laboratory systems with a multifaceted regional approach.
Since its launch in 2009, RESAOLAB has enabled the deployment of major programs for ongoing training activities, the construction and provision of equipment for training and quality assurance laboratories and the introduction of epidemiological surveillance systems.
The network has been heavily involved in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis from 2020 onwards. Thanks to an additional grant awarded by the AFD (Agence Française de Développement), RESAOLAB made it possible to develop response strategies for laboratories, by drawing on its expertise to support national efforts.
RESAOLAB in Benin
Benin has been a member country of the West African Network of Biomedical Analysis Laboratories (RESAOLAB) since 2014. RESAOLAB contributed to the drafting of the national policy on medical biology laboratories. The project also funded the construction of a building in 2017 for the national laboratories department and the national continuing training center.
The body in charge of laboratories was designated the diagnostic exploration department in 2021 and given the authority to implement the governance of the national laboratory network within the Ministry of Health.
The country’s influence extends across the region thanks to the intensive biomedical maintenance training program established with the École Polytechnique d’Abomey-Calavi (EPAC) in Cotonou by the RESAOLAB project, which provided renovations and new equipment for practical work and drafted the curriculum.