Strengthening capacity of tuberculosis laboratories in Turkmenistan

24 May 2013

imageRegional lab services use new equipment for detection of tuberculosis with luminiscent microscopy (Photo: UNDP in Turkmenistan)

The National Programme on Prevention and Control of Tuberculosis in Turkmenistan has recently benefited from the renovation of 28 district tuberculosis (TB) laboratories across the country. Thanks to this large-scale renovation work implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), medical staff of these laboratories are now able to perform basic laboratory microscopy in bio-safe conditions. Given the fact that tuberculosis infection is a proven occupational hazard to laboratory personnel, protection of laboratory staff through proper bio-safety conditions improves their performance, thus ultimately contributing to TB patients’ access to better quality of TB diagnostics at the district level.

Until recently, the laboratory services at the district and regional level in Turkmenistan provided only basic diagnostic and treatment procedures due to inadequate maintenance, insufficient funding and lack of modern equipment. Facing this challenge, Turkmenistan has prioritized strengthening the national TB laboratory services through establishment of adequate infrastructure and equipping the TB labs with furniture, refrigerators and modern technologies. In this effort, Turkmenistan is using the grant worth USD 17 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is  implemented by the UNDP project “Purposeful Strengthening and Expanding of Qualified Services on TB Diagnostics and Treatment in Turkmenistan” in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan. The project started in 2010 and should be completed in 2015.

“Before renovation, these laboratories lacked basic bio-safety conditions and equipment. Now, the newly revamped laboratories are perfectly fit to carry out quality laboratory investigations on the ground. The same quality services will be also made available in the remaining 27 district laboratories that will come on board soon. These TB laboratories are currently being upgraded by the Government of Turkmenistan in accordance with the national programme on development of rural areas,” said Rustam Alymov, the Grant Manager of the UNDP project.

In addition to renovation, the UNDP project annually provides quality assured reagents and commodities to all TB laboratories in Turkmenistan and offers training for lab specialists. As of today, 80 laboratory staff have enhanced their skills in basic microscopy.

At the same time, district TB laboratories are not the only beneficiaries of UNDP assistance. At the regional level, five TB laboratories have been equipped with light-emitting diode microscopes (LED) and diagnostic kits for faster and more accurate detection of TB in the sputum. In addition, three regional TB laboratories are currently being upgraded to perform culture investigations and drug susceptibility testing.

With UNDP support, the regional laboratories will eventually ensure adequate bio-safety and infection control measures required for protection of laboratory personnel. They will enjoy safe work space, contributing to motivation and retention of lab specialists. On top of that, quality TB detection and treatment monitoring will be easily accessible in the regions, thus posing no or little financial and geographic barriers to TB care.

Tuberculosis remains an important public health problem in Turkmenistan. Incidence rate of TB in Turkmenistan is estimated at 69 cases per 100,000 people. “By 2015, Turkmenistan targets to halt and reverse the incidence of TB in line with the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and by the Stop TB Partnership. Through implementation of the Global Fund grant, UNDP is working with key national partners to help achieve this goal. I believe that strengthening the national network of TB laboratories is a key to success,” said Ms Cao Lin, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Turkmenistan.

In the coming years, UNDP will continue providing support to the National Programme on Prevention and Control of Tuberculosis through building the capacity of TB laboratories in every region of Turkmenistan. The immediate target in this area is to enable the National Reference Laboratory and 3 regional laboratories to perform Xpert rapid molecular testing by the mid-2013. This is the most innovative technology currently recommended by the WHO. Once introduced and scaled-up to other regions of Turkmenistan, Xpert is expected to dramatically reduce the diagnostic gaps for TB, in particular in its multi-drug resistant form.

In the short-term, UNDP in Turkmenistan will be assisting the TB laboratories at the district and regional level to produce technical specifications for lab equipment and consumables, assess the needs, forecast, store and distribute the reagents and consumables.

The UNDP project “Purposeful Strengthening and Expanding of Qualified Services on TB Diagnostics and Treatment in Turkmenistan”contributes to the National TB Programme aiming to reduce the burden of tuberculosis in Turkmenistan. This goal is set in accordance with the WHO Stop TB Strategy and the Global Plan to Stop TB 2006-2015. UNDP is the principal recipient of the Global Fund grant for Turkmenistan. 

The Global Fund is an international financing institution dedicated to attracting and disbursing resources to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria. Since its establishment in 2002, the Global Fund has supported more than 1,000 programs in 151 countries, providing AIDS treatment for 4.2 million people, anti-tuberculosis treatment for 9.7 million people and 310 million insecticide-treated nets for the prevention of malaria.