Thinking Outside (or Rather, Inside) the Box

“The weather outside is frightful…” The west is facing unprecedented drought, the east is having debilitating storms, and the Midwest a “polar challenge” that keeps everyone on frost-bite watch. In times like these when we can’t reconcile with Mother Nature, I tend to reflect on the challenges of specimen and supply chain transport. Consider the challenges that we face with those issues when weather isn’t cooperative? Plane flights cancelled = delayed specimens to referral labs = delayed results and diagnoses. Interstate shut-downs = trucks sitting still = reagents too hot or too cold for too long. Blizzard or sand-storm conditions = couriers unable to travel = delayed pick-up/delivery = compromised specimen integrity.

Now translate that to our international colleagues, and you can see the difficulties they face on a daily basis. Long distances in the heat of the deserts, or snows of the tundras. Difficulties with transport, with trucks breaking down or planes unable to fly. Concerns with reliable transport via public buses, taxis, independent drivers/pilots who are not specifically trained in laboratory supply and specimen transport. The quality of the reagent and the integrity of the specimen = the precision of the result. It’s that simple…but it isn’t simple at all, is it?

So while we are dealing with the present weather conditions and issues, be reminded that our global laboratory colleagues deal with these issues in all kinds of weather and climate challenges every day, and have the same concerns. It’s a challenge Mother Nature provides for us, and one we must have contingency plans for in order to provide the best service to our patients.

If you are having weather challenges at the moment, I will hold good thoughts. Stay warm, or hydrated, or whatever the conditions require—and when our weather has passed, try to hold good thoughts for your colleagues around the globe who face it year around! If you want to know how they cope, let me know at bsumwalt@pacbell.net and I’ll share some recommendations I have learned from many of them over the past few years!

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.

US Global AIDS Coordinator and the Laboratory

In early November, Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator charged with leading the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) announced that he is stepping down from his position  to take a professorship at the University of California, San Francisco, where he will focus on the implementation of health programs in developing countries.

The Global AIDS Coordinator is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and reports directly to the Secretary of State. According to PEPFAR website, the Coordinator:

  • Leads the U.S. Government’s international HIV/AIDS efforts;
  • Ensures program and policy coordination among the relevant USG agencies and departments and nongovernmental organizations, avoiding duplication of effort;
  • Pursues coordination with other countries and international organizations;
  • Resolves policy, program, and funding disputes among the relevant USG agencies and departments;
  • Directly approves all activities of the United States relating to combating HIV/AIDS in 15 focus countries; and
  • Promotes program accountability and monitor progress toward meeting the Emergency Plan’s goals.

Given the influence this position has in the implementation of USG international HIV/AIDS efforts, the search to replace Dr. Goosby is of great importance. This person is in the position to guide the direction of PEPFAR implementation and thus may place emphasis on particular initiatives and programs. This Wall Street Journal article mentions four names that are on the short list for Dr. Goosby’s successor.

Certainly there are many important qualifications and characteristics that are needed to be effective in this position. However, as part of the laboratory community, it is my hope that one of those qualifications will be a high level understanding and knowledge of the lab.  With an understanding of the importance of the lab in terms of diagnostics and care and treatment I hope that this person will then guide the implementation of crucial laboratory strengthening programs. From the creation of region specific reference ranges, to better regulated supply chain management, to streamlined equipment and reagent procurement, to the training of personnel, there is much that can be improved in labs at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS. With improved diagnostics, particularly at point of care sites, the care and treatment of HIV/AIDS can be improved, which will not only save and improve lives but will also save money and resources.

Thus, my plea to whomever is appointed, know the lab (or surround yourself with those who do) and make laboratory improvements a cornerstone to the continued work of PEPFAR and USG HIV/AIDS efforts.

 

Levy

-Marie Levy spent over five years working at American Society for Clinical Pathology in the Global Outreach department.

 

Another Passport Story, Part 2—A Bit of Horsing Around

In my last blog, I left off telling you about my lovely visit “on horseback” in the Kyrgyzstan mountains outside of Bishkek.  I had taken off with a guide, marshaling my skills to stay in the saddle on a scrawny but feisty equine.  As we traveled up the dirt road-trail, it was evident that my mountain pony was full of energy and a handful.  We trotted and danced a bit, and I was using my best skills staying in the saddle.  We were passed by a couple of cars racing up the dirt road and leaving a cloud of dust which didn’t help my nervous horse, and my guide kept a close eye on me.  After a short ride into the hills he had me weave my way up a side trail so he could take my picture with the rocks and mountains in the background.  As he was fiddling with my camera, a car came racing back down the dirt road and stopped just behind him, shouting out the car window.  He looked at them, at me, back at them, and then shouted something to me in Kyrgyz, pointing and gesturing.  I didn’t understand, so he raced his horse up the hill and shouted “Passport? Passport?”  I said yes, I had it in my pocket, and pointed.  “Show, show!” he said, and when I dug for it, the money was there but the passport was gone.  During the horse-dancing and prancing, it had apparently worked its way out of my pocket and fallen by the side of the road.  We looked back toward the car and the driver was waving a very familiar-looking little blue book out the car window and sporting a very mocking grin.

You can imagine that my rapidly increasing unease translated directly to my horse and he started a bouncing act amid trees and rocks, and dangerously close to a downhill cliff behind me.  It was nearly impossible to get off without killing myself—but get off I did, handed the reins to my guide and ran downhill toward the car.  The driver and his two passengers looked to be about college age, laughing and saying “road, road” and in gestures we communicated they had found it, showed me the picture and said “you!”.  Now, since passport pictures are like driver’s license pictures, and I was shaggy and windblown, any reasonable passport control agent would have looked twice for verification…but it was indeed me.   What they wanted was money and had they given it back I would have given them all I had, and gratefully.  But the young man holding it did not offer it back, and raced the car engine.  I was a bit angry and said rather forcefully “that is mine, you give it back!” I reached into the car and grabbed it from him, amid more laughter and a bit of harassment from his passengers that now he’d lost it and “no money!”  By then my guide was standing behind me and the two of us were more of a menace than they were interested in, so they laughed and raced on down the road.  Whew.  After a few deep breaths, my guide looked at me with a very serious scowl and said “put passport HERE!” and demonstrated by shoving his fingers down the front of his shirt. I immediately followed directions and we trotted on back.  My ASCP colleagues were waiting for me as we jogged back up the driveway at the resort and I quickly borrowed another $20 bill, tipped my guide heavily and thanked my lucky stars that:1) the passport didn’t fall out of my pocket into the river;  2) the kids in the car were more interested in a little fun money than fencing it and; 3) the driver had slow reflexes.  Later that evening over a much-needed glass of wine, I reflected I had probably used up a couple of my “nine lives” on that adventure!

So if you are ever in the mountains outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and want to go horseback riding, I have a wonderful guide and a rather skinny Cossack pony I can recommend, just contact me at bsumwalt@pacbell.net. However, I would advise putting your passport close to your body somewhere OTHER than your jeans hip pocket!

 

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.

Another Passport Story, Part 1–A Bit of Horsing Around

On a recent trip to Kyrgyzstan, I had a wonderful time with an interactive training for laboratory pre-analytical procedures and specimen transport with key laboratory leaders. Our sessions were designed to give them a full picture of the challenges and opportunities ahead as they build stronger laboratory systems. The two week stay started with arrival in Bishkek, the capital city, on Easter Sunday morning. (Actually, it was the middle of the night!) It was still dark when we checked into the hotel and we took hot coffee to the hotel rooftop for an “Easter Sunrise”. I cherish sunrises all over the world, and taking a solitary moment to watch the sun move slowly through the haze over the distant mountains and bring the city to life was very special.

Sessions covered two weeks and in between we had a weekend to explore and see a bit of Kyrgyzstan. It was suggested we take an overnight into the mountains, which were covered in snow even in late spring, to enjoy their favorite “resort and spa.” A little relaxation and sightseeing in the mountains sounded excellent….we headed off with our ever-protective and accommodating driver.

One of the treats offered at the resort was a horseback ride along the dirt road into the mountains. Some of you may know I have horses and love to ride, so this was a natural attraction and I immediately signed up for a ride and a guide. They showed up with three of the tallest, skinniest, poorly-tacked horses I think I’ve ever seen and I secretly wondered how these ponies ever survived the tundra temperatures! But the ever tough “Cossack horses” are suited for it and much faster and well-adapted than our overly-coddled pleasure horses, so I quit frowning and clambered on. My mount was too tall and had a cock-eyed saddle, and I’m certain he could feel a bit of nervous body language. Riding takes your full attention and I wanted free use of both hands, and also a safe place for identification and tip money. So I put my passport, tip money, and the hotel phone number and cell phone in my jeans pockets. Safety first! However, this turned out to not be as safe as I thought …

Next time….the rest of the story!

 

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.

Happy New Year—Making 2014 a Year to Remember

If you are one who likes to make a resolution for the New Year, let’s have a look at the word “resolve”:

re·solve:

verb:  settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or conflict); to sort out, solve, deal with, rectify;  to decide firmly on a course of action; determine, decide, make up one’s mind, make a decision
noun: resolve, resolution; determination to do something, strength or decisive commitment

Or, another way to define it might be, “re – solve”.  Laboratory professionals are trained and skilled at solving problems, particularly analytical ones; why not “resolve” to “re – solve” something? Perhaps this is your year to make a commitment to giving back to your profession, your faith, your future. Consider volunteering, either at your laboratory, your hospital or clinic, your community, or perhaps even globally. There is no end to the list of opportunities for service, using skills and training to add value to improving health. If you want some ideas, just contact me at bsumwalt@pacbell.net and I’d be very happy to explore the idea with you!

This is one of my favorite quotes—let’s make 2014 a Year to Remember!

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  ~Anne Frank

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.

Season’s Greetings—International Style

In this season of extending kindnesses and gifts and sharing the blessings of family and friends, I am reminded of something I have heard many times; World peace isn’t achieved in government board rooms or international caucuses…it is achieved quietly in each other’s homes, around the table, one-one-one, face to face.  I believe that is true; and some of the most lasting impressions I have of the world and the world’s people have been gifted to me in conversation, at the table, exchanging ideas, thoughts and building relationships and forging ways ahead to make health and care better globally.  This is the essence of change and the heart and soul of peace and prosperity.  May this season bring peace and joy, no matter where you live or what faith you follow, and may we all strive to sing the melody and the harmony together whenever we can.

Happy Holidays!

 

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.

Passport Nostalgia—Looking Back

One of my life mottos is, “Never let your passport expire.”I just renewed mine and when they sent back the old one, punched full of holes, it was interesting see all the passport stamps and colorful visa stickers, and reflect on places I’ve been in the past ten years.  I enjoyed revisiting a variety of unexpected journeys and the opportunity to relive some very special travel memories.

The pages are home to circles, squares, and odd shaped stamps in a variety of inks. I find hurried and smeared signatures, kanji graphicsand Aramaic scripts, and a variety of illegible initials; there is a whole page devoted to the amount of US dollars and Ugandan currency I was required to pay for an “on foot” border entry; there are colorful images and seals; the back has a host of barely legible security stickers in a rainbow of colors; there is even a page announcing an “amendment” to add more page.  Ten years of travel history bound in a single, 3.5 x 5 inch dark blue booklet, and it speaks about the world in a subtle stillness from the corner of my desk.

As I flip through the pages, I’m reminded that this little booklet has been with me for all my laboratory consulting journeys, and occasionally has had a mind of its own.  The Johannesburg airport incident for one; and next time I’ll tell you about passports and horses.  I don’t have a stamp in there for this little side trip in the mountains outside Bishkek, Kyrgystan, but I’m thinking I should have—you can be the judge.Take a moment and thumb through your passport.  I promise it will jog travel memories, and perhaps invite you to take another international journey soon.  The world is indeed a small place, and I intend to fill as many pages as possible in the next ten years!

 

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Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.