Labs fail patients
Afghanistan needs medical laboratories that can conduct reliable tests on patients.
Mustafa, a resident of Kabul, says he has undergone many tests for a chronic stomach ache. "In every laboratory, the diagnosis of my illness is different. I have spent lots of money, and I am still suffering."
There are an estimated 1,600 clinical laboratories – half of them private – but the equipment is rudimentary. Only one public lab has been recognised as "second grade". The certification depends on the level of technology used.
Recently a national policy for laboratories was finalised with the help of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Ministry of Public Health has plans to set up regional laboratories in four provinces – Herat, Balkh, Nangarhar and Kandahar. A fifth lab may be established in Paktia.
There is one central public laboratory in Kabul. Millions of dollars have been spent on public health over the last 15 years but a policy on standardising labs had eluded the Ministry of Public Health.
Head of central laboratory Dr Naseer Ahmad Stanekzai promises standardised services. "Labs have been divided in four grades with the first grade being the lowest."
He claims the ministry has set up the country's first laboratory with the ability to conduct HIV tests. Some of its technicians will be sent abroad for training, he says.
The central laboratory has 88 employees: 50 are professional technicians.
There is no clarity on how many of the 800 active private laboratories are second grade or higher. Dr. Mohammad Basheer Sakayee, who is the bridge between the public health ministry and private medical practitioners, claims the 800 labs are spread across the country, even in rural areas.
Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim who monitors the certification process for laboratories only confirms there are rules and regulations. "Our office has a checklist which is used to grade the laboratories …," he says.
Is the grading process reliable? Dr. Mohammad Ewas who is in charge of a grade three lab in a hospital tells Killid there are clinics that have got first grade certification but do not meet any of the criteria. "Those who have contacts in the Ministry of Public Health can twist the rules," he says.