Establishing an international laboratory network for neglected tropical diseases: Understanding existing capacity in five WHO regions

Laura Dean, Janet Njelesani, Charles Mulamba, Russell Dacombe, Pamela S. Mbabazi, Imelda Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Limited laboratory capacity is a significant bottleneck in meeting global targets for the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTD). Laboratories are essential for providing clinical data and monitoring data about the status and changes in NTD prevalence, and for detecting early drug resistance. Currently NTD laboratory networks are informal and specialist laboratory expertise is not well publicised, making it difficult to share global expertise and provide training, supervision, and quality assurance for NTD diagnosis and research. This study aimed to identify laboratories within five World Health Organisation regions (South-East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Americas, Western Pacific and Europe) that provide NTD services and could be regarded as national or regional reference laboratories, and to conduct a survey to document their networks and capacity to support NTD programmes. Methods. Potential NTD reference laboratories were identified through systematic searches, snowball sampling and key informants. Results. Thirty-two laboratories responded to the survey. The laboratories covered 17 different NTDs and their main regional and national roles were to provide technical support and training, research, test validation and standard setting. Two thirds of the laboratories were based in academic institutions and almost half had less than 11 staff. Although greater than 90 per cent of the laboratories had adequate technical skills to function as an NTD reference laboratory, almost all laboratories lacked systems for external verification that their results met international standards. Conclusions. This study highlights that although  many laboratories believed they could act as a reference laboratory, only a few had all the characteristics required to fulfil this role as they fell short in the standard and quality assurance of laboratory processes. Networks of high quality laboratories are essential for the control and elimination of disease and this study presents a critical first step in the development of such networks for NTDs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Dec 2 2018


  • Americas
  • Capacity building
  • Eastern mediterranean
  • Europe
  • Laboratory networks
  • Neglected tropical diseases
  • Quality assurance
  • South-East Asia
  • Western pacific

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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