Getting to Zero: Lab Scientists Fight HIV/AIDS in Africa

By APHL Global Health Program

Over three decades have passed since the words “HIV” and “AIDS” became part of our everyday lexicon. Though we have yet to reach the United Nations’ goal of zero new HIV infections, we have come far since the onset of the pandemic thanks, in part, to the drive and dedication of public health professionals.

Among them is a cadre of professionals whose contributions often go unnoticed: public health laboratory scientists. From Addis Ababa to Johannesburg, these laboratory experts work with APHL’s Global Health Program to realize the association’s vision of a healthier world through quality laboratory practice. They build laboratory diagnostics and reporting capability, hone the skills of laboratory technicians, foster the growth of effective laboratory managers, and chart the direction of national laboratory systems in collaboration with ministry of health officials, to name a few of their many functions.  Below are introductions to a few of these public health laboratory champions.

Emmaculate Agolla, APHL’s “field champion” in Kenya, works to ensure that laboratory information systems (LIS) function effectively to deliver lab data and test results. Her laboratory colleagues respect her ability to troubleshoot systems and interconnect LIS components, skills that are in short supply in her country.

APHL is fortunate to have two Bob’s supporting its LIS initiatives in Africa. Bob Bostrom is an LIS veteran who has traveled the continent to implement LIS. Bob shifts between LIS vendors and African cultures with ease, assisting with review of RFPs, selection of vendors and system implementation. He assumes responsibility for activities ranging from laboratory assessments to support and review of LIS implementation processes.

Bob Sokolow is APHL’s paper-based LIS expert.  He has helped numerous countries to evaluate their paper-based reporting systems, and develop more effective, standardized forms for sample entry.  The result is improved consistency and accuracy of laboratory data.

Brett Staib, the association’s database guru, has assisted several countries to design databases for more efficient management and reporting of lab data. His efforts have led to improved access to health information by health care providers and ministries of health.

Solon Kidane, APHL’s field consultant in Mozambique, collaborates with the country’s ministry of health and other agencies to strengthen laboratory capacity. Always, one to go above and beyond, he serves as a master trainer for CDC’s step-wise laboratory accreditation program, Strengthening Medical Laboratories towards Accreditation (SLMTA), and provides training in laboratory leadership and management.

Isatta Wurie has done it all — strategic planning, training, renovating and commissioning labs, networking with ministries of health, and mentoring of laboratory staff. She tackles this work in the two countries under her charge and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.  She is a force to be reckoned with among those building quality laboratory systems to combat HIV/AIDS.

“Queen of Laboratory Quality” Kim Lewis has worked throughout sub-Saharan Africa as a master trainer and technical advisor to ministry of health laboratories.  Recently, she coordinated LIS implementation in Lesotho, a small country located within the borders of South Africa that has been devastated by AIDS. Ever-patient, Kim ensures that project deliverables are on time and of the highest quality.

Ralph Timperi, APHL senior advisor for Laboratory Practice and Management, shares his expertise in in laboratory science and practice, both global and domestic, with APHL staff and consultants.  A former state laboratory director, university instructor and chair of APHL’s Global Health Committee, Ralph is highly respected for his expertise by partner countries. His achievements include renovation of two laboratories in Mozambique, design of laboratory training curricula, and crafting of strategic plans and guidance documents in collaboration with ministries of health and CDC in-country offices.

The contributions of these laboratory scientists remind us that it is possible to effect positive change in the world even when the ultimate goal is as difficult to attain as an HIV incidence of zero.

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