The second bi-annual African Society of Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) Conference took place from November 30th – December 4th 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. This backdrop was striking in a way that was both breathtaking and ironic. Breathtaking because of the stunning beauty of the landscape and architecture, and ironic because it was such a very far cry from the small, rural clinics in which our work (and the work of most of our global health peers) is typically focused. And though the 1,000+ attendees all had varying areas of expertise, we all shared the same goal: to address Africa’s most pressing healthcare issues.
When Daktari Diagnostics decided to partner with ASLM by becoming the 2014 Conference Strategic Sponsor, we saw an opportunity to convene with attendees and non-attendees ahead of time, engage in discussion on the African health care system, and hear their thoughts on the theme of ASLM2014: Innovation and Integration of Laboratory and Clinical Systems: Reshaping the Future of HIV, TB, Malaria, Flu, Neglected Tropical Diseases and Emerging Pathogens in Africa.
To reach our desired audience at home and across the world, we hosted an hour and half long #ASLM2014 tweet chat in early November and posed a number of questions about the various infectious diseases sweeping Africa (the Ebola Epidemic, for example, has killed over 6,000 men, women, and children in West Africa), as well as questions on how they believed diagnostic and treatment paradigms could be improved where they live or work.
We learned two key lessons from our chat.
First lesson: Hashtags are not a universally understood concept, and explaining the function of a hashtag to those who created Twitter accounts solely to participate in our chat was quite simply a challenge. Hashtags are an online communication tool, first used on Twitter and expanded to other platforms, including Facebook, that organize and index related content. The convention—and relying on Twitter to spread ideas—is not something commonly used by people like the technician we talked to working at a blood transfusion lab in Nairobi. For us, it was important to bring important conversations about the healthcare initiatives taking place in emerging markets to our North America-based audience.
Second lesson: Much of Africa is in crisis, and needs help fighting infectious diseases that many of us in the US likely never have to worry about contracting in our lifetimes.
‘Help’ is a daunting term when it comes to several countries trying to overcome grave health care issues but, based on our chat threads, we determined that ‘help’ could be categorized into three different themes. The first is increasing access to quality information, the second is improving diagnosis, and the third is strengthening treatment options.
As a company working to develop a line of portable, efficient, and wirelessly connected point-of-care diagnostic devices meant for use in rural and unpredictable settings, we weren’t shocked by the need to improve diagnosis. We are working day in and day out to get our devices into the hands of those who need them the most.
Increasing access to quality information and strengthening treatment options are also imperative concerns with regard to addressing Africa’s health care issues, and, along with improving diagnosis, all three main tweet chat themes plus much, much more were addressed at ASLM2014 in great length.
So, the bad news first: There is a lot to do to improve health care in Africa, which isn’t a big secret if you’ve watched even a few minutes of a news program in the last several months. The good news? As evidenced at ASLM2014, the right people are up to the task, and ready to get the job done. The time is now.
Daktari Diagnostics, Inc. (www.daktaridx.com) is a venture-backed company based in Cambridge, USA. Daktari’s corporate mission is to address the world’s biggest health problems by building a market-leading business around a fleet of accurate, portable diagnostic products that can be deployed anywhere in the world. The Daktari technology platform combines electrochemical sensing with microfluidics, enabling highly accurate, low-cost diagnostics in a handheld format. The Daktari connectivity platform provides seamless data management for results produced at any health facility.
Photo: Betsy Wonderly, Daktari’s Director of Global Marketing, Sales, and Commercial Programs speaks at ASLM 2014