Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Let me be honest and straightforward: this was not my favorite model when I first learned about it. Until, that is, I went through the certification to become a trainer and I fell head over heels in love, despite it being more complicated and intricate than the other models used and discussed in the Leadership Institute. The MBTI provides a deep understanding of your personality traits, natural skills, and tendencies while highlighting skills you have learned along the way. As an added bonus, this understanding isn’t tied to any life role (work, parent, child, friend, etc.). I, for instance, have a slight preference for extraversion with a lot of introversion tendencies. However, I usually come across as highly extraverted, as I learned to act more extraverted because my sister was very shy growing up and I wanted to balance it out.

The MBTI focuses on your innate personality preference, organized into four dichotomies:

  • Extraversion vs. Introversion (E –I)
  • Sensing vs. Intuition (S – N)
  • Thinking vs. Feeling (T – F)
  • Judging vs. Perceiving (J – P)

Your preferences in each category, when combined, are your type. For example, if I had a preference for Introversion (I), Sensing (S), Feeling (F), and Perceiving (P), my type would be ISFP. This type gives me insights into how I interact with others, process information, come to conclusions, and approach the outside world. Understanding this will allow me to know my strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others. As a leader, applying that knowledge effectively in different situations and with different people is essential.

 

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-Lotte Mulder earned her Master’s of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2013, where she focused on Leadership and Group Development. She’s currently toward a PhD in Organizational Leadership. At ASCP, Lotte designs and facilitates the ASCP Leadership Institute, an online leadership certificate program. She has also built ASCP’s first patient ambassador program, called Patient Champions, which leverages patient stories as they relate to the value of the lab.

 

Yin and Yang

Who would have thought that our personality is made of contradicting elements?

I truly enjoyed the MBTI course, it was an eye opener of who I am and a trip inwards. Knowing who we really are, our talents, comfort zones and blind spots will help us become better leaders.

So now I know and after all these years (on a personal or professional level) that I am an “ENFP,” these four letters mean that I tend to be extraverted, intuitive, feeling and perceiving. I do agree with the assessment as it reflects who I am and decided after taking the course to put my Middle Eastern Ego aside and not challenge the blind spots.

ENFPs see new possibilities in people, situations, tasks and projects at hand. We tend to have high energy and flexibility. In my line of work, being the Chief Quality Officer at MedLabs Consultancy Group in Amman-Jordan, I find these personal traits very critical to our success as a company to ensure the highest compliance in implementing quality standards throughout our network of laboratories spanning four countries and exceeding 50 in total. Being a people’s person is a great asset in order to touch the hearts, minds and souls of our staff to sustain these quality standards, being 150% convinced rather than simply following the rules. We are trying to “personalize” Quality and Safety, this can only be accomplished through connecting with each staff member and it requires inspiration, a trait that is “built in” ENFPs.

Looking at the blind spots, I find that we tend to get overexcited about projects, juggling many at the same time and loosing track of priorities in the hope of making a difference. Guilty as charged.

I am learning to take one project at a time, see it through completion and start the next one in the pipeline, this gave me and my colleagues a breather and time to reflect if the road that we are taking is indeed the correct one.

So now I am asking myself, what if I did not have the great opportunity to be part of the ASCP Leadership Program and I have missed out on MBTI? What if I did not realize that I am an ENFP? What if I could not appreciate the blind spots?

The simple answer is: I will be a classical leader in it for the title, with little contributions and not much of a positive effect on those who are around me. My job will be stale, with no spirit and dull, so I guess Yin and Yang actually works.

 

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-Nael M. Soudi holds a bachelor degree in Microbiology from State University of New York at Plattsburgh (USA). He completed both his Master Degree in Molecular Biology and a postgraduate program in Cytotechnology at Johns Hopkins University (USA). Mr. Soudi is a certified Practitioner in Health Care Quality (CPHQ) and a certified consultant and inspector with the Healthcare Accreditation Council. He is also certified by the International Academy of Cytology (IAC) and the American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP) – Cytology. Mr. Soudi is fully licensed by the American Society of Clinical Pathologists and the College of American Pathologist (CAP) as a Certified Inspector. He is a frequent presenter at regional and international conferences discussing topics in Cytology, leadership, accreditation and healthcare quality. 

Your Reaction to Safety

The toddler’s father let her hand go so he could pay for their dinner at the busy airport. The little girl quickly wandered away and suddenly found herself at the top of a long escalator that was going down. No one was watching.

Mrs. Anders was walking home as she did every day from the neighborhood pool. She was very hard of hearing, but she was as friendly as she could be. As she waved to you while crossing the street, you see the car speeding toward her at too fast a pace.

You may have encountered a situation similar to one of these, or you may have seen something like it in a suspenseful movie or television program. The scenario is something that can create a reaction in you, a feeling of sudden dread, and the urge to take quick action. That’s a good response, and it could save someone from a serious incident.

But is your reaction the same in the lab where you work?

Lisa processed some CSF samples at the front desk that were delivered from another lab. She later received a call from the sending lab alerting her that the patient was positive for CJD, a prion disease, and the specimens were sent in error. When she went to clean up the processing area and tell the other staff, Lisa saw her co-worker leaning on the counter and using the computer with no PPE.

In the morning, Ken dropped a glass bottle of hydrochloric acid on the lab floor, and it shattered and spilled. He went to get the spill clean-up kit, but before he returned, the pathologist walked into the department wearing open-toed shoes.

Now let’s try something a bit subtler:

Robert is working in the chemistry department and he uncaps the next batch of tubes to be analyzed behind the safety shield on the counter. He places the tubes in the rack and carries the rack over to the analyzer. He’s not wearing any face protection.

Sheila was the supervisor in hematology, and she was walking through the department as Dwayne was on the phone with a service representative about the broken analyzer. The rep asked to speak to Sheila. Dwayne hands her the phone with his gloved hands, Sheila is wearing no PPE.

As a lab safety professional, one of my goals is to help lab staff have that same urgent gut reaction- that feeling that something is wrong and needs immediate correction- in all of those lab scenarios above, particularly the subtle ones. In each of those moments, the risk of danger or infection is very high and needs to be mitigated. All too often, however, these events occur in labs and no one reacts. That’s a safety culture problem.

There are many possible reasons for that typical lack of response. People are busy, the unsafe practices are common, or safety is simply not a priority. Lab injuries and exposures continue to occur across the nation, so the issues need to be addressed, and there are ways to do that successfully.

One method I use in safety training (that I’ve written about before) is the development of “Safety Eyes.” I call that the latent super-power that everyone possesses, but it needs to be taught and honed. When you work in a particular environment every day, it can become difficult to see the safety problems without training and practice. Take pictures of unsafe lab practices or problems and show them to staff. Have them identify the issue. As they practice, they will begin to see issues more often. Take practice safety walks with staff and look for issues. These actions will help everyone’s “Safety Eyes” to develop and become powerful tools in the department.

Of course, just seeing the issue is not enough. The second important piece here is teaching staff to respond when they do spot a problem. That can take some training and empowerment that may be new ideas for many. Teach staff to coach their peers for safety. This behavior will show others that safety is a priority, and over time more and more staff will begin to follow suit.

To produce the reaction you want in your laboratory—the issue is noticed, there is a sudden sense of dread or a gut reaction, and then there is a correction made—takes consistency. The lab safety leader will need to provide education about the regulations. Next, develop the “Safety Eyes” of the staff through pictures and safety walks. Finally, teach them to respond to the problems. As people, we are aware of the immediate danger when we see a toddler at the top of the stairs. The possibility of harm is clear to us. If you can produce that clarity for your staff with lab safety issues, you can get those reactions that can only improve your safety culture, and you can drastically reduce those injuries and exposures.

 

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Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.

Medical Laboratory Professionals Week Approaches

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In light of Medical Laboratory Professionals Week 2017, I wanted to take this quarter’s post and thank all of you who work hard in so many ways to get patients the results they need. You truly are “All Stars.” I thought it would be interesting to have an interactive sort of post; feel free to write in the comments examples of how you and your lab go above and beyond to help patients.

Here is just one example of how the Molecular Diagnostics Lab here at Nebraska Medicine continues to do our part to serve our patient population. Our hospital (University of Nebraska Medical Center) has become a participating center for the TAPUR trial. This stands for “Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry” study; it is a non-randomized clinical trial that is essentially matching anticancer drugs to genomic variants in the patient’s tumor. Currently, most drugs are given based first on what type of tumor it is, then by the genomic variants. For example, if a patient has a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), and that tumor has a duplication in the KIT gene (p.A502_Y503dup), that tumor is sensitive to a drug called Imatinib, among others, and that drug has been shown to help fight the GIST. The TAPUR study’s goal is to see if any tumor that presents with that KIT variant is sensitive to Imatinib, whether the tumor is a GIST or some other type of cancer.

What does this have to do with our lab? Well, there are certain criteria necessary for a patient to be eligible for this trial. In addition to being 18 years or older, not currently pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the patient must have a solid tumor, multiple myeloma, or B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma that is not responding to standard anti-cancer treatment and they must be able to be active for at least half the day, every day. Lastly, they need to have had a genomic or molecular test performed on their tumor. I and the technologists that I work with have seen an increase in our testing since our hospital has become a center for this trial because of that last point. We run an assay that tests areas of 50 genes that are known to contain “hotspot” regions that are commonly mutated in different types of cancers, and we run this by next generation sequencing (more to come regarding this type of technology–stay tuned for next quarter’s post!). We have been testing tumors of patients that have not been responding to treatment, and we all realize that each one of the tests that we perform has an impact on how that patient’s tumor will be treated. And here I have to commend the techs in our lab for thriving when faced with the challenge of this increase in testing–they have done an excellent job with the added workload and with keeping up with the changes that are made in this rapidly evolving area of the lab. I think we all appreciate this aspect of our careers–knowing that the hard work we put in every day to do our jobs to the best of our abilities can and does have an effect on people’s lives. Thank you all for everything you do!

For more information on the TAPUR trial, follow this link: http://www.tapur.org/.

 

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-Sharleen Rapp, BS, MB (ASCP)CM is a Molecular Diagnostics Coordinator in the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at Nebraska Medicine. 

Interference in Lab Assays

A 69 year old patient with cirrhosis presented to the ER with fever. Her bilirubin was markedly elevated at 7.4 g/dl and her hemoglobin and hematocrit were measured at 13.4 g/dl and 35.6% respectively with a MCV of 103.2 fl and MCH of 38.5 pg. The next day her H/H were 11.9 g/dl and 31.3 % respectively. While her hemoglobin one day later was 11.9 g/dl, the reported hematocrit was 39.3%. Patient had a bilirubin level of 8.7 g/dl at this time.

The fluctuating numbers together with the discrepancy between hemoglobin and hematocrit over a very short period of time was concerning. We realized that presence of markedly icteric plasma was responsible for these discordant values. Saline replacement and spun crit were performed in order to correct interference by bilirubin. Subsequent measurements of H/H revealed hemoglobin in the range of 12.9 g/dl with a hematocrit of 38% and a MCV of 113 fl. As the bilirubin levels started dropping (in the range of 6.5 g/dl) the hemoglobin level measured by the analyzer fell in the range of 10.3 to 11 g/dl. The instrument (XN-200) gave no error codes and therefore we were able to report out the analyzer results without correction. It was however very important to convey to the clinical team that the H/H values did not truly represent a fall from the previous values. As the two methodologies were different (spun crit and plasma replacement was being no longer performed) the numbers should be interpreted accordingly. Patient was not bleeding actively and did not require any blood transfusion.

Interference occurs when a substance or process falsely alters an assay result. Interferences are classified as endogenous or exogenous. Endogenous interference originates from substances present in the patient’s own specimen. Exogenous interferences are substances introduced into the patient’s specimen. Interference from hemolysis, icterus and lipemia are most frequently studied. Protein interferences are most often associated with paraproteins and predominantly with IgM or IgG and rarely with IgA. Drug interference may be due to the parent drug, metabolite(s) or additives in the drug preparation. Determining if interference is significant requires deviation limits from the original result. Once interferences are identified there is a need to establish procedures for handling affected results as part of the quality system.

Hemoglobin is quantified based on its absorption characteristics. Conditions such as hyperlipidemias, hyperbilirubinemia, a very high white blood cell count, and high serum protein can interfere with this measurement and result in falsely elevated hemoglobin values. When the values of hemoglobin, red cell count, and MCV are affected, MCH and MCHC also become abnormal, since these indices are calculated and are not directly measured. Sometimes a set of spurious values may be the first clue to an otherwise unsuspected clinical condition (e.g., the combination of low hematocrit, normal hemoglobin, and high MCV and MCHC is characteristic of cold agglutinins).

Although one must pay attention to very high amounts of bilirubin within the plasma, most hematology analyzers do not presently demonstrate any interference with bilirubin, at least for concentrations up to 250 mg/l. Above these values attention is however needed.

High serum or plasma bilirubin concentrations can cause spectral interference with assays near the bilirubin absorbance peak of ~ 456 nm. Chemical interference e.g. with peroxidase-catalysed reactions may also occur.

 

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-Neerja Vajpayee, MD, is the director of Clinical Pathology at Oneida Health Center in Oneida, New York and is actively involved in signing out surgical pathology and cytology cases in a community setting. Previously, she was on the faculty at SUNY Upstate for several years ( 2002-2016) where she was involved in diagnostic work and medical student/resident teaching.

Social Accountability Inside and Outside the Laboratory

Being a medical laboratory scientist is more profession than occupation. Those of us who are affiliated with ASCP through our certification or work know the value of being part of an organization that values education, certification, and advocacy for patients. Finding a place in this network has given me a strong foundation through years of understanding a “best practices” paradigm. If you’ve been following my posts these last few months, you’ll have heard all about my work with Zika virus prevention and detection initiatives on the island country of Sint Maarten. Being here at the right time and right place have provided ample opportunity to flourish as a medical student with a history of laboratory experience. Recently, my school honored me with the Social Accountability Award and Scholarship for outstanding service during my time as a student with respect for my colleagues and the surrounding community of Sint Maarten. Having authored proposals and leading initiatives coalesced into an ongoing functional public health initiative, partnered with local government and NGOs. My experience as a certified scientist allowed me to build on three major ASCP foundations:

  1. Leadership. Receiving the award from the school validated my confidence in the work that I and my team have been doing this last year. Letters of recommendation came from my service-learning course director and Dean of Community Affairs, and the consultant advisor to the public health prevention office of the local Ministry of Health. The Dean of Medical Sciences even spoke about me with kind words and an inspired tone that really meant a lot to me, personally. This overall validation was not just for me—it was for the work, my team, and our efforts in local public health. The exercise in textbook-to-field informatics, education, and interventions could not have come to fruition without experiences I drew from in my lab years. Responding to CAP inspections, spearheading changes to SOPs or operations, and being a voice at the conference table taught me how to collaborate as well as lead.

 

  1. Education. If there’s anything I would say has been paramount in my time (both here in medical school and back in the lab) it’s the value of education. I could not do the work or pursue the projects I do today without backgrounds in molecular science, lab informatics, or general pathology and disease. Through numerous degrees and opportunities to work in the field of laboratory medicine, there are countless venues for someone to continue to patient care. My journey included a foundation of molecular biology, a graduate degree in lab science, an ASCP certificate with continuing maintenance as an MLS—now in post graduate work; I continue to work and learn in a dynamic environment. I have created SOPs from scratch, researched literature on seroprevalence and epidemiological statistics, managed and interpreted specimen collection and ELISA testing, and contributed to public health awareness and education. If you want diverse and exciting, this field has it! Education doesn’t stop with the degrees and certificates on the wall behind my desk, however. A very important, and arguably mandatory part, of being a scientist/clinician is being able to engage in an educational conversation with a wide variety of audiences. Talking about Zika virus prevention, seroprevalence, and risk mitigation is a different conversation with children, or local adults, or medical colleagues.
  1. Advocacy. Finally, I should say: if there’s one major thing professional organizations like the ASCP do for its members and our communities, it’s advocacy. Giving a concrete voice and substantial representation to the causes we care about as professionals yields positive returns for our overall shared goal of improved patient outcomes. My work here is first as a medical student, and second as a public health partner. Sharing and collaborating on how this community can best utilize its resources to address a local epidemic is at the forefront of my team’s work. When I started this project, I was inspired by the aims and goals of the Partners for Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment in Africa Initiative from the ASCP Foundation. I first heard about this at the annual meeting in Long Beach, and, as I prepared for my own stint overseas, I tried to keep that close to heart. Improving global health outcomes and increasing laboratory visibility were two of the major tenets of this project. Proudly, I would say I’ve been involved in both aims. Clear success has been documented (and continues to be seen!) in my Zika initiatives, and more and more people engage in conversations with me about translational medicine. With all my documents signed “C. Kanakis, MS, MLS (ASCP),” people have been surprised by all the things someone with “just a lab” background can really do! Breaking stereotypes and inspiring others to reach out for improving patient outcomes is all part of the same conversation I have with my community partners.

In short, my work with Zika virus prevention is an ongoing project, with new events and achievements tallied weekly. But before I get back to recounting the most successful events each month, I wanted to take a step back and say that I could not have been a Social Accountability Award recipient in this community without first learning the way to be a leader, educator, and advocate in our community.

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

 

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Constantine E. Kanakis MSc, MLS (ASCP)CM graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BS in Molecular Biology and Bioethics and then Rush University with an MS in Medical Laboratory Science. He is currently a medical student at the American University of the Caribbean and actively involved with local public health.

Phlebotomists and PPE: How Do You Decide?

When it comes to making a decision about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the laboratory, OSHA is pretty clear about how to go about making the selection. The use of risk assessments and task assessments is required by OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard, and these can be essential tools in making decisions regarding safety throughout the laboratory. The decision-making tools and processes can be applied to the patient collection area as well. You might think selecting PPE for phlebotomists would be straightforward, but in some cases, it is not.

Deciding on gloves for phlebotomists is easy. The Bloodborne Pathogens standard states, “Gloves shall be worn when it can be reasonably anticipated that the employee may have hand contact with blood … (and) when performing vascular access procedures.” (The one exception here is when collecting blood at a volunteer donor center, although gloves may be worn there as well.) So, if you have phlebotomists on your team, whether they collect blood on the patient units, at client sites, or in the lab, they all need to be wearing gloves, and it is required that they change those gloves after each patient contact. The gloves should be constructed of latex, nitryl, or another material that prevents the passage blood or body fluids (vinyl gloves should not be used).

Some of the decisions about the use of lab coats and phlebotomists are, unfortunately, more complicated. This first part of this conversation is easy. The BBP standard requires lab coats “in occupational exposure situations.” That means that if phlebotomists perform any work in the lab- if they process blood, spin it down, pour it off, etc. – they are in such an exposure situation and need a lab coat (and face protection if they handle open specimens or chemicals).

The second part is a bit more troublesome. Do phlebotomists need to wear lab coats when collecting blood from patients? According to OSHA, the answer is a clear “no.” A 2007 OSHA letter of interpretation states, “ Laboratory coats… are not typically needed as personal protective equipment (PPE) during routine venipuncture.” The letter does also go on to say that employers should perform risk assessments for any potential exposure situation in order to make decisions about lab coat use.

I do not favor the use of lab coats for phlebotomists, and I have my reasons. In my years of collecting specimens, I never obtained a splash of blood above my wrist, and I believe the risk of such a splash is minimal. As a Lab Safety Officer, I also know the use of a lab coat for phlebotomists creates several issues. If a lab coat is worn as PPE, should the same coat be worn from patient to patient? That would never happen with gloves, so if the lab coat is for protection against blood spatter, should that used and potentially contaminated protection be re-used? If a phlebotomist uses a lab coat while processing specimens in the lab, should that same lab coat be used with patients? No, OSHA says PPE used in the lab should never be worn outside the lab. Will phlebotomists change their lab coats? That is not convenient for them, and it opens the door to regulation violations and potential patient harm.

When having conversations about this topic, I have heard the argument that clothes or scrubs are worn from patient to patient if lab coats are not used. What’s the difference between that and wearing the same lab coat? The difference is that clothes and scrubs are not PPE. They are not designed to offer protection against splashes. Once you use an item as PPE, the OSHA regulations that cover the employee and how it should be viewed change.

On the other side of the coin, however, is a survey that was conducted in 2008 by DenLine Uniforms, Inc.[1] 180 phlebotomists across the country responded to questions about exposure and lab coat use. 64% of those surveyed regularly used semi-impermeable lab coats as PPE while collecting blood. 74% of respondents said they had encountered blood splashing beyond the hand area multiple times during the years they had been drawing blood. Given just this data, it seems clear that there is a high risk of blood exposure while performing venipuncture procedures, and that should mean that a lab coat should be used.

So how do you decide what to do with phlebotomists and lab coats in your lab or hospital? First, start with a risk assessment. Determine the risk of exposure above the wrist based on the collection equipment and procedures used at your location. If the risk is low, you should feel comfortable choosing not to provide lab coats for this process. If you find the risk of splash is high, implement the use of lab coats. Use caution, however, and consider the impact to patients of wearing what you consider to be contaminated PPE from patient to patient. As with all decisions about lab safety, think about the regulations, but if they don’t give you the answer you need, fall back to the choice that offers the best safe practice for your staff.

[1] https://www.denlineuniforms.com/assets/images/pdf/Blood_Draw_Exposure_Survey-October_2008.pdf

 

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Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.

Diagnosing Displaced Populations

If you are at all aware of current politics, you are aware of the refugee crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Global Trends report estimates that 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes as refugees or internally displaced persons in 2015. Refugees are a population at risk for many diseases and health complications, and also lack access to adequate diagnostic testing. The average length of conflict-induced displacement is 17 years, resulting in significant healthcare ramifications. The health of refugees is important for obvious general humanitarian reasons, because the risk of spread to the host population when refugees find asylum, and for the burden untreated chronic diseases place on the healthcare systems of host countries.

The most common diseases in refugee camps are communicable, and include diarrheal disease, acute respiratory disease, measles, malaria, meningitis, TB, and HIV. Poor sanitary conditions and close accommodations are driving factors for these diseases. Loss of infrastructure in the country of origin increases the likelihood that a refugee will enter camp with a communicable disease. For example, disruption of vector control programs or efforts in a volatile country increase the risk of vector-borne diseases such as malaria. Breakdown of vaccine programs increases risk of vaccine-preventable diseases; the low vaccine rates in areas producing most of the world’s refugees contributes to the mortality of measles in refugee camps.

While there’s no denying that communicable diseases are a huge threat to refugee populations, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are also a significant burden. In 2008, the WHO estimated 63% of deaths occurring globally were attributable to NCDs. The number is projected to increase to 55 million by 2030, with the most rapid rise expected to occur in developing countries – which are also the main source of displaced persons. Displaced persons are also more vulnerable to NCDs because of risks associated with population movements, including psychosocial disorders, reproductive health problems, higher newborn mortality, drug abuse, nutritional disorders, alcoholism and exposure to violence. Unfortunately, there is not much published on the incidence of NCDs in refugee populations, but at least two studies describe diabetes, hypertension, and seizure disorders are frequent diagnoses in refugee camps. A study of Congolese refugees found 9.5 cases of diabetes/100,000, 5.9 cases of seizure disorders/100,000, and 2.6 cases of diabetes/100,000. A Belgian study found a high number of refugees with chronic diseases and interrupted maintenance treatments in addition to those with diabetes, hypertension, and seizure disorders. Not diagnosing and managing non-communicable diseases in refugee populations increases the risk of morbidity and mortality in these populations, and means that the refugee will present a larger burden to the health system of the country in which the refugee finds asylum. Any loss of function due to an unmanaged NCD – loss of limbs from diabetic neuropathy, for example – will impact the future livelihood of a displaced person.

Increasing rates of antimicrobial resistance, of malaria and TB for example, make it even more important the that correct diagnosis – including pathogen strain where appropriate – is made before treatment is started. However, most health-related efforts in refugee populations focus on disease prevention and control, and less with building diagnostic capacity. The CDC Division of Global Migration and Quarantine (DGMQ) recommends testing refugees for infectious disease, especially those with long latency. Some of the diseases the DGMQ recommends testing for include malaria, TB, and intestinal parasites. There’s less guidance regarding testing for non-communicable diseases. The WHO recommends “ensuring the essential diagnostic equipment, core laboratory tests and medication for routine management of NCDs are available in the primary health care system”, with no further detail.

There’s very little in the peer-reviewed or even lay literature about the availability of laboratory diagnostics, but from what is available and anecdotally, diagnostics are often not at the forefront of medical efforts in refugee camps. The Belgian medical team consisted of 400+ volunteer medical staff, and yet was severely under-supported in terms of diagnostics.

Challenges to bringing laboratory diagnostics include infrastructure needs and cost. Unfortunately, lab diagnostics are not cheap! The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) spent $6.9 million USD to operate comprehensive labs in 124 of it’s 139 health facilities. Infrastructure needs – electricity and clean water –  and the need for trained personnel are common limitations to operating diagnostic laboratories in resource-poor settings such as refugee camps. Political instability also contributes to the challenge. In 2013, the DGMQ reported that the Dadaab refugee camp, home to over 300,000 refugees, had a fully functioning comprehensive laboratory. In May 2016, this camp was closed due to safety risks, eliminating the laboratory resource.

So what do we do? I have to be honest that – even though I thought I knew about this problem – writing this blog post has been eye-opening for me and I’m not sure I can answer the question. I’m definitely going to be thinking about this for some time. In the meantime, I think being aware of the problem of limited access to diagnostic laboratory testing in refugee populations is a good start. We need to get a better understanding of the scope of the problem. We should be ready and able to provide specific recommendations for meeting diagnostic needs in these populations including most appropriate diagnostics given clinical needs, infrastructure, and available treatment options. The road toward a solution will include global collaboration, research, and advocacy.

 

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Sarah Riley, PhD, DABCC, is passionate about bringing the lab out of the basement and into the forefront of global health.