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The Role of Laboratory Workers in the Fight Against the COVID-19 Pandemic


KIU, Western Campus – Citizens all over the world are applauding health care workers on the frontline of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

When we talk of health workers, most people think of only doctors and nurses. However, today, we look at another section of health workers on the frontline and the role they are playing in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The origin of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is shrouded in mystery, with many believing it to have originated in a lab in Wuhan, China.

The Wuhan lab, known as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, studies different types of Coronaviruses so as to learn how best to combat them by creating hybrid versions.

There are many laboratories of the same kind all over the world and the people who work in these laboratories run a very high risk of being infected by dangerous viruses in case of any mishap.

The first-line laboratory workers are called lab assistants, and then there are the lab technicians, lab scientists, lab specialists and then the lab consultants, who are the highest qualified laboratory workers with PhDs. These do a lot of work like disease identification, monitoring patient response to treatment and clinical research.

Ritah Kiconco (in the picture), a lab scientist at the KIU Teaching Hospital chemistry laboratory, and an alumnus of Kampala International University says we would not be aware of the type of disease affecting us if it was not for the lab workers.

“Identification of disease is done in the lab. They (lab workers) are locked in one place, where they work, while other lab staff go to the field and collect samples,” Kiconco says.

She gives an example of testing for COVID-19 where a suspected patient’s sample is taken and transferred to the lab for identification of positivity or negativity of the disease.

“It is the lab scientist or technologist who runs the sample and then interprets the result to ascertain if it is really COVID-19 or not,” Kiconco says.

She adds that lab workers’ findings inform many decisions in administration and financial policy implementation.

She cited Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s decision to suspend the head of the national health laboratory in charge of Coronavirus testing after he questioned the accuracy of the country’s COVID-19 test results.

And indeed decisions such as extending lockdowns and allocating resources to certain sectors hinge on the findings from the laboratory.

Therefore, Kiconco says, as we applaud health workers, more effort should be put in investing in lab technology and especially, human resource.

“Government should think about investing more in lab technology and ensuring employability for graduates of lab science because there is a lot they can offer to public health,” she says.

“Most of our graduates go unemployed because the few opportunities for employment in research organizations and in the private sector are taken. Other healthcare people have many opportunities in the government healthcare system and the same should be done for lab people,” Kiconco says.

Picture courtesy of Ritah Kiconco