By Enyeribe Ejiogu, [email protected]
When on October 13, 2021, former Registrar of the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN), w, a professor of haematology steps up to the dais at UNICAL International Conference Centre, University of Calabar, he would be wearing a halo of academic achievement and legacy of sterling public service as head of a Federal Government regulatory agency.
He would on that day deliver the 102nd Inaugural Lecture of the University of Calabar, on the theme “Sanguis: Gateway to Quality Human Disease Diagnosis, Management and Research” which will highlight barriers to access to diagnostics in Nigeria and the way forward towards attainment of UHC2030. The epoch-making event would coincide with his 17 years of academic research work and training of doctoral and other postgraduate students as a Professor of Haematology and Blood Transfusion Science.
The erudite scholar served as a consultant to the World Health Organisation, in development of the WHO’s first two editions of the Essential Diagnostics List (EDL). He also served as Lead Consultant to develop the first ever National Essential Diagnostics List (NEDL) for Nigeria with the aid of the WHO and Global Fund through its support to Management Sciences for Health.
His tenure at the Medical Laboratory Council brought about comprehensive overhaul of the operations of the regulatory agency that ended the decades of rot and put it on firm footing that enabled the country regain international regard, recognition and renewed acceptance of results of laboratory investigations produced by elite medical laboratories in the country, several of which have been able to secure high level certification by the International Standard Organisation. Today, those laboratories now justifiably wear their annually reviewed and renewed ISO certification as a badge of honour akin to winning an Olympic gold medal. It is heart-warming that his legacy at the regulatory agency still speaks till today, more than five years after his tenure was truncated. In the run up to the inaugural lecture, he bared his thoughts on how Nigeria can achieve universal health coverage by 2030.
What have you been engaged in since your tenure as Registrar, Medical Laboratory Science Council ended?
As is the common practice with a number of academics after national assignments, I returned to the classroom and laboratories for continued human resource and capital development at the University of Calabar as well as undertaking ad hoc consultancy engagements.
Looking back, what would you say are your regulatory legacy achievements that have subsisted and been deepened by the council to ensure global best practices by Nigerian medical laboratory science professionals?
During my term, the MLSCN successfully instituted standards, processes and guidelines for continual quality improvement and accreditation of public and private medical laboratories in Nigeria including the revised code of ethics and professional conduct for practice and updating of various professional training curricula. These were on gazette as subsidiary legislations and hoisted on the Council website and had continued to be in use. We established the first Public Health In-Vitro Diagnostics Control Laboratory in Yaba, Lagos, which was commissioned by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2013. This laboratory played a key role in validation of COVID-19 test kits being used in the ongoing control of the pandemic. MLSCN headquarters was relocated after about 40 years in Lagos to Abuja, and built an ultramodern health professional regulatory headquarters/laboratories complex on 10,000 square meters of prime land in Durumi Abuja Phase 1 within a record of three years and commissioned by Mr. President in May 2015. This has greatly expanded Council workspace and continued to enhance its visibility.
Furthermore, the admission of MLSCN into the esteemed membership of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) / International Accreditation Forum (IAF) as well as the African Regional Accreditation Cooperation (AFRAC) as the first agency in West and Central Africa to be so admitted has continued to facilitate the work of Council going forward as a global peer review institution. Also worthy of note is the laying the foundation for the development of MLSCN Strategic Development Plan with Annual Operational Plans. The US CDC-MLSCN Cooperative Agreement (2011-2015) to support and mentor selected tertiary health institutions’ medical laboratories in Nigeria for quality service delivery accreditation boosted the continued work of Council as a national medical laboratory services accreditation agency as well as equipping the External Quality Assessment (EQA) Panel Production Laboratory in Abuja; logistics support to the National EQA Laboratory for proficiency test panel distribution and processing in Zaria. The first three medical laboratories (445 Air Force Laboratory, Ikeja, El-Lab in Festac and Clina-Lancet Laboratory, Lagos) to receive ISO 15189 accreditation from MLSCN was part of the outcome of the US CDC-Council Cooperative Agreement project. Other achievements that had continued to be useful include Council restructuring into functional departments headed by directors, development of training institutions’ accreditation checklists and policy, laboratory posting manual for professional assessment of students in approved training institutions, Council website portal, robust staff re-training and welfare scheme etc. These human capital development activities are geared towards improved health services in Nigeria and cutting down of capital flight due to medical tourism.
Are medical laboratory reports from Nigeria more trusted by foreign health institutions as well as diplomatic missions in the country unlike before when they insisted on reports from a particular lab in Lagos? What made the difference and changed the narrative?
Yes, to a limited extent, with uptake of quality consciousness and accreditation of a few more medical laboratories coming on stream.
The seeming culture of slanderous petitions is one reason knowledgeable technocrats who can’t play “the game” avoid serving in the civil service. Did you experience this while you were Registrar/CEO? How were you able to cope and create a legacy?
You have aptly stated the common anomaly. I very much got the baptism of fire of slanderous and libelous petitions synonymous with what President Buhari refers to as “corruption fighting back” both before the renewal of my second term in office and midway after. It got more bewildering and offensive when the then newly appointed supervising minister took sides with the petitioners to induce a leadership coup for no just cause whatsoever (no administrative or judicial process, indictment or even a single query). With the strong conviction that there were no skeletons to hide, we approached the courts of law for justice and they rightly granted us victory in the cases and the defendants indicted.
As a former regulator have you considered leading a national private sector-led retooling of laboratories with modern diagnostic technology under emerging subsidized medium term financing arrangements supported by the ADfB, USTDA and IFC?
No. I had rather on ad hoc basis worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop its first two editions of the Essential Diagnostics List (EDL). I also served as Lead Consultant to develop the first ever National Essential Diagnostics List (NEDL) for Nigeria with the aid of WHO and Global Fund through its support to Management Sciences for Health. EDL is a vital tool to aid access to diagnostics through a more efficient and effective planning, selection, procurement and logistics by the United Nations Agencies, Countries, Health Implementation Partners, Institutions, Policy makers and medical technology industries towards attainment of the Universal Health Coverage 2030 goals.
What are you currently doing? Or have you retired into politics, the most “profitable” vocation in Nigeria today?
I am still actively engaged as a tenured Professor and Honorary Consultant at the University of Calabar and UNICAL Teaching Hospital respectively. I am yet to venture into the most “profitable” vocation of politics in Nigeria.
Who is a technocrat in your view? What is your perception of leadership?
A technocrat basically refers to a person exercising governmental authority because of his knowledge or a member of a powerful technical elite or someone advocating the supremacy of technical experts. My perception of leadership is altruistic and visionary quality service delivery based on knowledge, honesty, meritocracy, and pragmatism.