As many Medical Laboratory Scientists have been stating, the 50th anniversary represents success and triumph over adversity.
Raxy E. Ekwebelam
Despite the current challenges facing our country today, it is gratifying to see that there are government agencies working hard to fulfil their statutory mandate and give hope to the stakeholders. One of such is the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN), which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on December 4.
Act 11 of 2003 established MLSCN as the National Regulatory Authority for medical laboratory services with the mandate to bequeath a culture of accurate, reliable, reproducible, timely and cost-effective medical laboratory test results to the citizenry. Prior to the Act, not much was known about the struggles and sacrifices made by the founding fathers of the profession on whose beleaguered shoulders so much rested. Few stakeholders would recall a time when even the Board of the Institute was mainly made up of members of other professions while the Medical Lab Science profession itself endured marginalization.
In those days, in spite of their pivotal role in the accurate diagnosis of diseases, Medical Laboratory Scientists were regarded as middle-level manpower and every effort to accord them their due respect was seemingly thwarted by their older professional compatriots with whom they have continued to have a love-hate relationship till today.
Only few Nigerians are aware of the efforts of the members of the Medical Laboratory Science profession to take their rightful place in the scheme of things. Yet, MLSCN’s humble origin could be traced to Decree 56 of 1968 signed by Gen. Yakubu Gowon (GCFR), then Head of State, Commander-in-Chief, Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It was the decree that established the then Institute of Medical Technology (IMLT) that later became the Institute of Medical Laboratory Science and Technology via Decree 54 of 1999.
It is, therefore, fitting that the revered statesman is also the one to chair the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Abuja on December 4. As many Medical Laboratory Scientists have been stating on various social and traditional media platforms, the 50th anniversary represents success and triumph over adversity. It represents freedom from marginalization and backwardness as it also represents a profession that has made meaningful contributions towards the growth of the health sector. Furthermore, the Golden Jubilee epitomises what could be accomplished with tenacity of purpose, perseverance, hard work and dedication to the core values of one’s profession. The event is not just being marked for its own sake; for, apart from representing a milestone in the annals of the profession, the event with the apt theme “The Medical Laboratory Science Profession in Nigeria: past, present and future”, would also enable stakeholders to rededicate themselves to the life of service to humanity.
The event is also a fitting tribute to the “Golden Registrar”, Tosan Erhabor, who took over the mantle of leadership at a time the agency, was faced with unprecedented upheaval and many thought that the centre would never hold again.Apart from galvanising the faithful and converting the heathen in the subsector, he has led the Council to peace, stability and progress. The following words of the legendary Martin Luther King Jnr apply to Erhabor as they do also to the entire Medical Lab Science profession: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving.”
Undoubtedly, MLSCN has accomplished quite a lot these past five decades in spite of the fact that it began its journey from a nondescript corner at the General Hospital on Broad Street, Lagos. From there, it moved to a wooden portacabin at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos, before moving to the popular 8 Harvey Road in the same area. In 2010, it moved again, this time to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja where it occupied 49, Mamman Nasir Crescent, Asokoro before completing its own permanent headquarters at Durumi, Garki, in 2014. In size and magnificence, the structure is incomparable among regulators in the health sector.
Furthermore, MLSCN has done well in the effort to sanitize the medical laboratory services in the country through the unwavering fight against quackery, unethical practices, as well as unwholesome products. Using such instruments as periodic inspection and continuous monitoring of medical laboratories, it has continued to ensure that only facilities with the right policies, processes, procedures, personnel, as well as equipment and environment are allowed to function. Its Accreditation Service has been mentoring laboratories to upscale their standard to ISO 15189, and history was made on December 3, 2016 when MLSCN accredited three deserving facilities. Many are currently lined up for such recognition which is the hallmark of excellence in medical laboratory service. The External Quality Assurance (EQA) programme of the agency, currently featuring over 800 facilities, is also helping to expose facilities to peer review and external validation of their test results.
All of the above are aimed at ensuring that a test result emerging from any medical laboratory wherever located in Nigeria, would be impeccable and similar as long as the same parameters are involved. Not forgetting that the agency has continued to work closely with the National Universities Commission and the 25 Universities now offering Medical Laboratory Science programmes as well as other training institutions. The goal is to ensure that competent, skilled, modern and ethically-minded professionals who can be trusted to deliver accurate and reliable medical laboratory test results for the teeming patients across the country are produced.
However, in spite of the giant strides mentioned above, there are still challenges that MLSCN must overcome before it realizes its full potential.These include the ubiquitous problem of quackery, which tends to undermine all efforts to instil confidence in the health laboratory system. The next is the issue of funding that most government agencies have to grapple with; and then there is the pervasive inter-professional rancour in the health sector. Although, this does not directly affect the Council, whatever affects its members must be of concern to it.
As all roads lead to the Abuja International Conference Centre on December 4, this is wishing MLSCN and indeed all Medical Laboratory Scientists in the country, Happy Golden Jubilee Anniversary.
Ekwebelam, a public affairs commentator, writes from Abuja