Microscopy is the gold standard method to diagnose malaria, and a skilled microscopist is essential to ensure reliable malaria diagnosis. Until recently, Ethiopia only had one expert microscopist. As a result, it was difficult to provide support for quality trainings to other microscopists or recheck malaria slides collected from health facilities to ensure quality control. To address this gap, ICAP at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health partnered with the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) on a five-year project, supported by USAID’s President’s Malaria Initiative, to strengthen Ethiopia’s laboratory system by increasing the number of WHO-certified expert microscopists.
In 2015, ICAP and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute led a two-week intensive training to 13 microscopists drawn from ICAP-supported national and regional reference laboratories across the country. Participants received hands-on training and practical demonstration from senior malaria laboratory experts from ICAP and EPHI. They used malaria slide sets comprised of all species of human malaria parasites, and learned every aspect of parasite detection, identification, and quantification of parasite load. At the end of the intensive training program, WHO assessors tested the newly-trained microscopists to validate their competency.
“This is one of the best trainings undertaken recently where all the participants achieved trainer’s level,” said Mr. Stephen Munene, lead assessor of this course. “This achievement enables us to have a large pool of local WHO-certified expert readers who will validate standardized malaria blood film slides that we are producing for the national malaria slide bank in-country,” said Mr. Abnet Abebe, associate researcher and malaria focal person at EPHI. Previously, Ethiopia sent slides to the Philippines for examination and approval.
“Nobody dreamed of such an achievement in such short time,” according to Mr. Gonfa Ayana, director of the Regional Laboratories Capacity Building Directorate at EPHI. “These experts can now provide trainings, supportive supervision, mentoring, and coaching to other microscopists to improve the quality of malaria diagnosis at other health facilities.”
“This achievement is taking Ethiopia to the next level of malaria laboratory diagnosis,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, ICAP global director and University Professor, Epidemiology and Medicine at Columbia’s Mailman School. “We are certainly in a better position to continue the fight towards malaria control and elimination.”
With the support of USAID’s President’s Malaria Initiative, ICAP is working with its partners to bring Ethiopia closer to the goal of zero malaria deaths by 2020.