Fully functional laboratories are critical for a high-quality antiretroviral treatment program. Special tests are required to monitor the progression of the disease in order to provide correct treatment. However, in many parts of Uganda, either the laboratories cannot perform the necessary tests or there are no labs at all.
The Joint Clinical Research Center (JCRC) works to address gaps in Uganda's overburdened health sector, and to scale up HIV/AIDS treatment. To respond to the critical need for high-quality laboratory services, JCRC has established four Regional Centers of Excellence in the northern, western, southwestern, and eastern regions of Uganda.
To create the Centers of Excellence, existing laboratories underwent extensive renovations. The Acting Head of JCRC in Mbale, Dr. William Kizito, explained: "If I could rate the change, it would be 150 percent improvement." With funding from PEPFAR, JCRC built extensions, installed computers, improved data collection systems, and provided clinical furniture, secure drug storage facilities, and communication equipment.
The renovated laboratories have the capacity to conduct the sophisticated tests required in ART management and monitoring. Although diagnostic and monitoring tests for children had previously been available only at JCRC in Uganda's capital of Kampala, these services now are available at the Mbale and Fort Portal laboratories. Located in the east and west of Uganda, these Centers of Excellence act as regional training and quality assurance centers.
JCRC has established laboratory management teams, whose role is to monitor and ensure delivery of high-quality laboratory services at the regional centers. In addition, strong links have been established with the laboratories and the Ministry of Health, the National Laboratory Technical Committee, and the National Public Health Laboratory. These links ensure that coordination of laboratory services is in line with national plans.
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