ASLM recently sat down with Dr Kingsley Odiabara, Director of the Medical Laboratory Services Division in Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health, to discuss their Global Fund (GF) application experience. The GF is a worldwide international financing and partnership organization formed to defeat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and ensure a healthier, safer, and more equitable future for all. Countries where the GF invests take the lead in determining where and how to fight the three diseases.
ASLM: What is the role and contribution of the GF in strengthening Nigeria’s laboratory systems and diagnostic network?
Dr Odiabara: The GF has contributed significantly over the years towards laboratory systems strengthening in Nigeria through support provided through the Resilient and Sustainable Systems for Health (RSSH) grants. The RSSH II grant runs from April 2021 to December 2023 and provides resources in six key areas, including:
- Leadership and Governance through quarterly National Laboratory Technical Working Group (NLTWG), subcommittee meetings and a selected State Laboratory Technical Working Group to integrate and align donor funds and activities with implementation of the National Medical Laboratory Strategic Plan 2021-2025. The grant also supports the Federal Ministry of Health’s Medical Laboratory Services Division to improve partner coordination and collaboration.
- Laboratory Information System (LIS) development, specifically software for a national electronic LIS.
- Laboratory Quality Management Systems improvements to ensure that the eight laboratories being supported towards accreditation make significant progress in preparedness and SLMTA rating.
- Laboratory Infrastructure and Equipment strengthening for public health laboratory facilities in Nigeria to improve and better coordinate the response to epidemics.
- Biosafety and Biosecurity training to improve the best-practice capacity of laboratory personnel in selected public health laboratories.
- Laboratory Networks and Sample Referral Systems to implement the National Integrated Sample Referral System.
ASLM: We understand the Nigerian Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) oversees the funding request. What mechanisms are available to you as a laboratory services director to ensure that your needs reach the CCM? Are there focal persons or institutions you speak to?
Dr Odiabara: Quarterly RSSH Steering Committee meetings are convened by the ministry’s Office of the Permanent Secretary and attended by all stakeholders, including representatives of the CCM. When there are matters to be brought to the CCM’s attention, the ministry, through the NLTWG, send requests for meetings. Finally, a country dialogue, and grant prioritization and alignment workshops are always conducted by the CCM preparatory to the grant writing request.
ASLM: What kind of structured interactions have been set up and what typically takes place?
Dr Odiabara: There is no defined structure for engagement with the CCM. However, the national laboratory directorate do write and seek appointments with the CCM for necessary dialog involving implementation of laboratory interventions supported by the GF and other partners. Often, the NLTWG leadership are included. Communication lines to the CCM, the CCM executive secretary and other officers are widely open to the laboratory services director.
ASLM: During negotiations to prioritise funding, what strategies do you apply to ensure laboratory priorities are included in the funding requests?
Dr Odiabara: We ensure that the CCM, all disease programmes, donor agencies and key stakeholders are consulted during the development of the proposal for laboratory systems. This is achieved through country dialogue and stakeholder engagement to share the GF guidance on funding request priorities through the ministry’s Department of Health Planning Research and Statistics and the CCM. In the current grant request, the Clinton Health Access Initiative played a key role in writing the country’s health system assessment report, and the National Medical Laboratory Strategic Plan. Moreover, the proposal is shared with the CCM at all stages of development and review.
ASLM: How were LabCoP assessment results used to inform your funding request for the GF?
Dr Odiabara: In the next funding cycle, the GF mandated that all laboratory-based interventions in the AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria disease programme must be put in the RSSH envelope and that implementation must be driven by the national laboratory directorate. This speaks to the integration of laboratory-based programmes in the country. During the last LabCoP assessment, gaps were identified in areas such as sample transport, commodity supply chain, equipment maintenance, etc. Interventions for these gaps are included in the grant request in an integrated approach.
ASLM: Based on your experience, what advice would you share with other laboratory directors in making successful funding applications for the GF?
Dr Odiabara: I suggest they ensure their laboratory systems proposals are based on an approved national document in line with identified and documented gaps. Using this approach, the national laboratory system of any country can be set up for improvement and sustainable strengthening. Recognising national laboratory service directorates within ministries of health as the major driver of a country’s laboratory services and building the requisite capacity of the directorate are keys to these achievements. The national laboratory directorate must clearly understand its mandate and the social environment, which will enable it to engage other stakeholders and achieve desired successes. We ensured that many of the programmes and activities of the laboratory component of the RSSH grants were driven and coordinated by the Medical Laboratory Services Division with guidance from the NLTWG. This laid the foundation for sustainability and ownership.