German Laboratory Technology in Caledon Improves Turnaround Time for Patients' Test Results
Following the transfer of a state-of-the-art R15-million diagnostic mobile laboratory from the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering in Saarland, Germany, to the Western Cape Government at the end of last year, the laboratory has been operating as an extension of Caledon Hospital for the past four months.
The mobile laboratory was officially handed over to the Western Cape at a ceremony in March this year. Faced with the challenge on how to make optimal use of the state-of-the-art equipment, the Department of Health was advised by National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) to station the mobile laboratory as an extension of Caledon Hospital to provide laboratory services to the people of the Overberg region. Until the deployment of the mobile laboratory to Caledon, blood and sputum specimens from this region were couriered to Green Point, resulting in slow turnaround times. With the mobile laboratory now stationed in Caledon, patients receive results for the majority of tests requested within a one- to 12-hour period, as opposed to the previous waiting time of one to three days. By having a laboratory in the Overberg area, the waiting times for couriers and travelling times decreased significantly due to the shorter distance to the reference laboratory.
In the past four months, the mobile laboratory has processed more than 2 900 specimens and is expected to process even more as the network of specimen couriers gain momentum.
Specimens are sent to the mobile laboratory from health facilities in Caledon, Greyton, Genadendal, Hermanus, Stanford, Gansbaai, Hawston and Botriver. The plan is to add Bredasdorp, Swellendam and Theewaterskloof in the near future.
NHLS allocated a medical technologist, Byron Strachan, and technician, Simthembile Khulela, toward this project. They relocated from Cape Town to Caledon and are on standby after hours and over weekends for emergency specimen testing.
Tests done at the mobile laboratory include HIV rapid tests, TB, full blood count, cholesterol, blood glucose, liver functions, urea and electrolytes.
The close proximity of the mobile laboratory in the Overberg, related to fast-tracking and processing of specimens, which resulted in more efficient, effective and appropriate initiation of treatment. In the long-term, this will affect the length of stay in a hospital and the burden of disease. By having the mobile laboratory in Caledon serving the Overberg area, we will be achieving one of the principles of the health care 2020 vision, which is quality of care within the patient-centred approach. Travelling and courier costs have also been significantly reduced.
Western Cape Health Minister, Theuns Botha, said that the addition of the mobile laboratory to the portfolio of health facilities in the Overberg has in a short period made a huge impact on service delivery in the region. "Recent statistics available to the Western Cape Government Health indicate that the leading cause of death in the Overberg is TB, followed closely by HIV/AIDS. The fact that the mobile laboratory can perform detailed TB and HIV testing within a short period of time helps healthcare workers start counselling and treatment immediately, thus restricting the further infection of healthy patients."
On her recent visit to Germany, Premier Helen Zille visited the Fraunhofer Society in Munich. During these discussions, Premier Zille expressed her intention for closer co-operation between the institute and universities in the Western Cape regarding research and development projects, particularly in the field of renewable energy. In addition, it is envisaged that representatives from the institute will form part of the German delegation that will participate in the German-South Africa Year of Science in 2012/2013.
Head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Bio-Medical Engineering, Professor Guenther Fuhr, expressed his excitement about the successful deployment of Fraunhofer technology for the important fight against HIV and TB. "The commissioning of the mobile laboratory was a great collaboration between Western Cape Government Health and the Fraunhofer Institute. I am satisfied that the Fraunhofer team takes care of the service and maintenance work during the mobile laboratory's operational period in Caledon."
"Designed in Germany's Saarland, the mobile laboratory has shown the robustness for an uninterrupted operation from the start. Over the past year, the project has been a learning curve for all partners involved, and will have a huge impact on the future development of mobile laboratories," said Professor Fuhr. "The people from Western Cape Government, NHLS and the University of Stellenbosch had shown flexibility and commitment for the task and their reward is the successful operation of the mobile laboratory."
NHLS CEO, Mr Sagie Pillay, added, "The South African health sector is humbled by the donation of the mobile laboratory from the Fraunhofer Institute. The rural communities of the Overberg region are really the ones who have benefitted from this initiative as medical facilities can now diagnose faster which improves effective treatment to these patients. The community of Caledon specifically can now access a variety of pathology tests without travelling long distances. The mobile laboratory's significance has been enormous because since its arrival it has improved the service to the Caledon hospital. More clinics are encouraged to have their specimens processed in the mobile laboratory which is equipped with all the state-of-the-art analysers and the latest GeneXpert facilities."