Phetogo Phoi, Lab Logistics Advisor, Supply Chain Management System (SCMS)
Botswana, like many countries, struggles with a limited amount of health workers, especially personnel qualified in the area of lab management. In Botswana, this challenge is compounded by a limited number of graduate and undergraduate health programs. Professional courses, especially in the health area, are not offered here. Like many, I went abroad to the United States and the United Kingdom for my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
In the absence of a comprehensive health education infrastructure, the technical assistance provided by President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID to enhance the skills of the health workforce plays a critical role in strengthening the health sector. In the area of lab logistics, lab commodity management ensures that tests and other supplies are available when a doctor or nurse needs them. This field of study is often the furthest thing from a laboratory scientist or pharmacist’s mind when they enter the workforce.
In my work as a Lab Logistics Advisor for the Supply Chain ManagementSystem (SCMS), a project under PEPFAR and administered by USAID, I train health workers, mainly lab personnel, on laboratory commodity logistics management. One thing I’ve learned: lab supplies are critical to health programs. Someone will visit a clinic and be tested for HIV. If they test positive, based on their CD4 count, they are placed on lifesaving treatment. Health workers then monitor the patient’s treatment regimen and most importantly, their health.
If a lab isn’t properly tracking its inventory, there is an opportunity for stockouts of test kits, which could lead to very sick people going without treatment because they never learned their status. By learning to better manage their inventory of medicines, test kits and laboratory supplies, health workers can ensure their facilities are well stocked and the products they need are available for patient diagnosis and treatment.
I’m working with laboratory staff to help them implement the systems they didn’t learn about in their university studies or other pre-service trainings. I try to focus staff on addressing challenges and identifying how the system should look. Systems are more important than some may think. Without a system, there are many challenges in managing a health facility. But even with all the complaints and finger pointing, there was no structured system to resolve challenges.
Every day, I see the difference PEPFAR and USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are making in this area. I used to visit one of the facilities we work with, and it was a painful sight to find everything so mixed up. Pharmacists and laboratory officers were unable to find the supplies they needed or were unable to use them before they expired. Now, I go to facilities where I’ve trained people and just smile to see so much changing.
There is still much to do. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but I believe that with more investment in training and technical assistance we can help build a public health workforce we can all be proud of.