As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has proven globally, laboratories are at the heart of any well-functioning healthcare system. Acting like a central nervous system, they help detect and control outbreaks by identifying cases and sharing the results. Given their crucial role in the health system, they need strong leadership.
To train the next generation of laboratory leaders, the Global Laboratory Leadership Program (GLLP) was established by WHO and a range of partners, including the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization animal (OIE).
The GLLP ensures that participants have training in the core competencies outlined in the Laboratory Leadership Competency Framework:
- the laboratory system
- the quality management system
- biosafety and biosecurity
- disease surveillance and outbreak investigation
- emergency preparedness, response and recovery
- to research.
What have the laboratories done for us?
Despite their life-saving role, laboratories are often an invisible part of health systems. Yet the importance of laboratory expertise has been keenly felt in the response to COVID-19, during the first days and weeks of the pandemic, but also throughout its trajectory.
As countries raced to understand the spread of SARS-CoV-2, WHO/Europe and partners such as ECDC compiled a list of 6 international laboratories to provide country-level testing support. Mobile labs have also been deployed during localized outbreaks, for example to help trace the spread of COVID-19 in a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece.
But even in non-emergency situations, laboratories provide disease surveillance. They confirm outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, track influenza virus mutations, and help develop vaccines that can protect vulnerable populations from serious disease and thereby reduce the burden on health systems.
Given the global nature of public health threats, laboratory leaders must be well trained in best practices and the latest research.
Train the next generation
GLLP recently implemented the first such training in Central Asia. Laboratory managers from the human and animal health sectors gathered in Kazakhstan to learn new skills that they could take back to their workplace.
Aknur Mutalieva, a doctor and virologist from Almaty, participated in the training. She noted, “Thanks to the GLLP, I had the opportunity to improve my skills and strengthen my knowledge of the quality management system (QMS) and biosafety. I will use this knowledge for the development of QMS in my lab. The GLLP will directly influence the development and improvement of laboratory services in our country. After all, every manager of a GLLP laboratory improves their knowledge and will use it to develop and strengthen their laboratory.
Elmira Utegenova, PRGL facilitator, explained how the program improved her mentorship and communication skills: “For me personally, it was kind of a challenge for myself. Can I be a mentor? Will my experience be useful to others? Will I be able to learn on my own during the training? Will I be able to use my time properly without sacrificing my main job? We worked as a team with other animators and it also gave me some experience in communication skills with my colleagues. In terms of work, participation in the GLLP is priceless.
The first phase of the GLLP in Kazakhstan has now been successfully completed and planning for the second phase is well underway.
European work program
The detection and response to health emergencies has been identified as a key priority area of the European Work Program 2020-2025 – “United action for better health in Europe”. Investing in strong, resilient and inclusive national health systems, as well as operationalizing the One Health concept at all levels, are also key recommendations of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development.
By building capacity and leadership in laboratories across the WHO European Region, the GLLP plays a crucial role in preparing for future health emergencies.