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From BU-LABNET to Skin NTD LABNET – The 5th Annual Meeting of the BU-LABNET 

The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) in Accra, Ghana hosted the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Network Buruli Ulcer PCR Laboratories in the WHO African Region, from October 23 to 25, 2023. The meeting was organized by NMIMR,  the BU-LABNET Coordinating Centre, Pasteur Centre of Cameroon, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The purpose of the three-day meeting, which brought together about eighty (80) participants (network member laboratories, partners, and skin dWHO NTD Roadts), was to take stock of progress since the last meeting in October 2022 and identify ways to implement the integrated control and management of skin diseases in line with the WHO NTD road map 2021–2030 and the Skin NTD Framework and thus realise the vision of Skin Health for All.

The objective of the network, comprising thirteen (13) laboratories from nine (9) endemic countries (Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Togo), including external experts, supported by WHO, American Leprosy Missions, the Anesvad Foundation (Spain), and the Raoul Follereau Foundation (France), has been to improve the diagnosis of Buruli ulcer with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) among member laboratories using standardised testing protocols, involving external quality assurance programmes.

Prof. Dorothy Yeboah-Manu, Director, NMIMR

At the opening ceremony of the meeting, Prof. Dorothy Yeboah-Manu, Director, NMIMR, indicated that NMIMR, as a global health institution championing research within the sub-region, remains committed to improving quality diagnostics. Prof. Yeboah-Manu pointed out that the Institute deems it important to always support WHO roadmaps.

“There is no need to work in silos. It is therefore important to forge our capacities to leverage the limited resources to improve the quality of people’s health”, Prof. Yeboah-Manu said.

Adding his voice, Prof. Alfred Edwin Yawson, Dean of the University of Ghana Medical School, who represented the Provost of the College of Health Sciences chaired the opening ceremony. In his remarks, he revealed that many African countries continue to suffer the double burden of disease due to the socio-economic conditions of the continent.

According to Prof. Yawson, “it is important to have such a network that strengthens our coordination mechanisms and also extends to other neglected tropical diseases and other epidemic-prone diseases. The WHO’s Laboratories and Health Technology division is committed to assisting member countries in improving health and lowering morbidity and mortality through the safe, accessible, and appropriate use of vital health technologies within health-care systems”.

Dr. Sofonias Asrat, Officer-in-Charge, WHO-Ghana

Dr. Sofonias Asrat, Officer-in-Charge, who represented the Country Representative of WHO Ghana, indicated that one critical need for disease control is strengthening public laboratories in the WHO African Region.

Dr. Asrat explained that what is needed most is to build the necessary capacity and ensure the provision of reagents. “It is gratifying that this network is expanding its expertise to cover other skin neglected tropical diseases. WHO, as a key partner, will continue to collaborate with the network, providing the necessary technical guidance and tools for the control and elimination of NTDs”.

Dr. Anthony Adofo Ofosu, Deputy Director-General, Ghana Health Service

Dr. Anthony Adofo Ofosu, Deputy Director-General, Ghana Health Service, emphasized the important role of laboratory services in public health, and even more so with NTDs. “Laboratories are essential for providing clinical data, monitoring data about the status and changes in NTD prevalence, and detecting early drug resistance”, Dr. Ofosu reiterated.

He further pointed out that the focus of the meeting should not only be on Buruli ulcers but also explore ways in which there will be collective implementation of the wider integrated control and management of skin diseases in line with the WHO NTD Road Map 2021–2030 and the Skin NTD Framework.

Dr. Ofosu said “beyond the network of expert reference laboratories for Buruli ulcer (or skin-NTDs) which we recognize as a critical first step, there is also an urgent need to find a way of integrating with existing laboratory network infrastructure within countries, to reach persons even in the remotest of locations, while maximizing efficiencies and ensuring that we also maintain the necessary laboratory quality assurance processes”.

“For us in Ghana, where we have had experience with the integrated skin-NTD strategy for some time now, this is very welcoming, particularly when 8 of the 14 prevalent NTDs in the country have some skin-manifestation. Having such a network that can facilitate the sharing of expertise and collaboration to strengthen the work of individual laboratories in providing technical and scientific support for the diagnosis, surveillance, monitoring and evaluation of NTD programmes in counties is therefore of great value”, Dr. Ofosu said.

Cross-sectional view of participants at the opening ceremony

The event was attended by member countries and laboratories and guests from Ghana.

At the end of the three day meeting, the name of the network was transitioned from Buruli ulcer PCR laboratories network (BU-LABNET) to Skin NTD Network to position it for integrated skin NTD laboratory support activities in member countries, in line with the WHO NTD road map 2021–2030 and the Skin NTD Framework, and thus realize the vision of Skin Health for All.

Group photograph of BU-LABNET member countries

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