The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact, for more than six months now, on daily lives all over the world. The challenges are multiple, particularly in the economic and public health fields. This crisis has brought to light the central role of a quality infrastructure, including accreditation in providing healthy and safe products and services to citizens. The quality of the masks protecting against contamination, the competence of the laboratories carrying out the diagnostic testing for COVID-19, the quality of hydro-alcoholic hand sanitizers, etc., are all subjects for which governments are required to report regularly to their citizens.
In West Africa, the West African Accreditation System (SOAC) is playing its part to limit the spread of the pandemic. The way forward was set, from the start of the crisis, by the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA). The two regional organizations met during extraordinary summits organized on 23 and 27 April 2020 with the following decisions among others adopted:
- For ECOWAS "ensure that 15% of the annual budget of member states is dedicated to strengthening their health care system" and
- For UEMOA "to develop and implement a regional plan to strengthen the capacity of health systems for the management of epidemics".
Within this framework, the West African Accreditation System (SOAC) has been requested by member states to help strengthen the competence of medical laboratories. Indeed, while the number of medical laboratories is relatively large, their competence in most cases has not been demonstrated to date. There are, within the region, fewer than 20 laboratories accredited to the ISO 15189 standard "Medical biology laboratories - requirements for quality and competence". SOAC has therefore undertaken to organize free capacity building sessions on the ISO 15189 standard and also on the ISO 15190 standard “Medical biology laboratories - Safety requirements” in order to curb the number of laboratory technicians involved in the diagnostic testing for COVID-19 contracting COVID-19 which is on the rise.
In collaboration with the UEMOA Commission and the ministries of health of the beneficiary states, SOAC organized, between August 17 and 28, 2020, eight (8) webinar workshops for the benefit of 329 staff from medical laboratories. They came from nine (9) West African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. Taking into account the gender policies of ECOWAS and UEMOA, applications from women were welcome resulting in an average participation rate for women of 25%. The participants from Togo, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal were among the most assiduous. The participants were mainly biologists (approx. 35%), laboratory technicians (approx. 25%), and department heads (approx. 25%). The rate of progress in acquiring knowledge between the start and the end of the sessions was on average 57%. The training was considered useful to very useful by 95%; and the audience was 77% satisfied to very satisfied with the webinars. The results of the sessions will be fed back to the ministries of health of the member states, the West African Health Organization (WAHO), UEMOA and ECOWAS. They constitute and demonstrate a basis for decision-making in favor of policies for the development of ISO 15189 accreditation.
At the regional level, SOAC participated as a stakeholder, in April and May 2020, in the development of harmonized ECOWAS standards on hydro-alcoholic hand sanitizers and non-sanitary masks for use by the general public as part of the fight against the pandemic. SOAC intervened in order to take into account the questions of conformity assessment and accreditation which make it possible to guarantee the conformity of these products which are heavily used as part of the barrier actions against the virus.
The publication of these standards was the subject of a congratulatory motion in the final communiqué of the ECOWAS Heads of State Summit, held in Niamey, Niger on September 7, 2020.
Internationally, SOAC participated in a series of webinars, in particular the one organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), on May 15, 2020. SOAC intervention was focused on the role that accreditation plays in ensuring that the PPE used in the fight against the pandemic conforms to the requirements of the technical standards used for their production.
(UNIDO Webinar PPE 15 May 2020)