Durban – The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) is set to undergo restructuring to better serve the country’s health system over the next 10 years.
With just 250 laboratories in South Africa conducting over 16 million tests every year, the NHLS has been successful in providing quick results as far as HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) testing goes.
NHLS CEO Sagie Pillay told delegates at the 5th Aids conference that diagnostic pathology services are at the centre of health services provided to patients. Therefore, a 10-year “Master Plan” is being engineered with a focus on human resources, health technology and infrastructure.
The NHLS services 85 percent of the South African population, meets world wide standards and has highly skilled staff.
Pillay said the spin-off thus far has been the general strengthening of systems for laboratory services in general: data entry and reporting, quality assurance, analytical standardisation, service mapping and logistics.
It also is able to reach rural areas and offers a high quality service at low cost.
With at least one million people in South Africa on ARVs, the labs are kept busy. In 2010, 69 CD4 laboratories nationally carried out 3.5 million CD4 tests.
Pillay said 70 percent of TB patients are co-infected with HIV. Last year, over 4.7 million TB microscopy smears were conducted in 244 microscopy centres nationally.
The NHLS has established five labs to test for drug resistant strains of HIV, and according to Pillay, this service is going to need to expand in coming years.
Pillay said their national priority programme therefore focuses on HIV, TB and cervical cancer services.
The NHLS will continue to find ways to reduce overall health care costs, find more money for research and training of more pathologists.
Pillay said ideally, more funds should be allocated to the NHLS from the national health spend to strengthen its services. – Kemantha Govender, BuaNews