Pacing Towards Accreditaiton
By: José E. Trejo, Director, Belize Bureau of Standards
A few years ago I was to be tested at a local public laboratory for diabetes after having developed an unusual blister that had appeared on the surface of my skin. A young lad appearing to be invincible and immune, I remained unconvinced and dismissive of this possibility. Yet my family history got the better of me, my grandfather a victim himself of this chronic disease I was more on the better side of being forced than encouraged to be tested. Medical attention whether by force or will, there is always that dreaded result that we happen to fear. My experience no different, I awaited the results in agony perhaps due to the fact that I spent much of my time reflecting on the life changes I would have to make. After all, having to give up some of life’s little pleasures in dramatic fashion on the heels of better health is easier said than done.
Results are just one part of the ordeal that the mind becomes preoccupied with, on the flip side is the more critical element such as the accuracy and the reliability of the results which sometimes at the individual level is overlooked. As luck would have it, my results proved to be negative and for me that was sufficient to the ear. Admittedly, I gave little consideration on whether the results were accurate and reliable; it’s as if my trust and confidence was automatic. Freed from the mental and physical bondage of this chronic illness, I contend to this present day that the results proved to be in my favour. On the aggregate however, this may not always be the case as someone you probably know may have had the misfortune of running into the world of false positives and false negatives, cases of which may prove to be comforting while in others devastating.
As our society has evolved through the ages it has become impossible to imagine it without systems of measurements more so the assurance and confidence which are now deeply rooted in them. It is for this reason that accreditation has become a key pillar in not only building confidence in the systems of measurements so commonly used today but also in establishing international recognition in measurement standards and processes – trade , commerce and industry, health etc – used across countries.
For many of us the notion of accreditation may appear “alien” to our everyday lives and the way we do business. So why all this fuss about accreditation and what does it mean? Accreditation means recognition, acceptance and official approval. It is the perfect combination of status (being recognized) and process (how a product, a person or an organization is recognized). In other words, it is the means by which a determination can be made on whether a person, institution or laboratory is “creditworthy” i.e. it can be trusted regarding its competence. This “badge of approval” per se is normally granted by an authoritative body such as an Accreditation Body. This authority in larger economies exists as an independent body while in developing economies are found to be functioning arms of the National Standards Bodies.
For purposes of this article accreditation helps to build trust and confidence in the competencies of clinical laboratories and their respective personnel – public and private. Knowingly or unknowingly the general public must be assured of the accuracy and reliability of test results produced on a daily basis. In reflection this is the very assurance I would have needed to cast out any lingering doubt on the results I had received.
Be it known, accreditation is a costly but voluntary endeavour hence the reason why it is more developed in advanced economies. More importantly it is a rigorous process for the astute and not for the faint at heart. In Belize, the Bureau of Standards is charged with this responsibility serving merely as the National Focal Point for Accreditation. Despite limitations at the national level, efforts for accreditation is on the march as the Bureau, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, is seeking to revitalize interest as well as to gradually pave an economic and realistic approach for accreditation.
At a workshop held on November 4th of 2013, the Bureau with the support of a Regional EU funded project titled “Support to the Caribbean Forum of the ACP States in the Implementation of the Commitments Undertaken Under the Economic Partnership Agreement” was able to gather a total of 29 public and private laboratories – testing and clinical laboratories – exposing them to regional and national initiatives that can and will support the development of accreditation. Furthermore, as the Chair of a formal working group to establish a National Laboratory Network for Belize, the Bureau, the Ministry of Health and its partners are framing both the institutional and legal framework necessary to embrace accreditation and where possible levelling the playing field for clinical laboratories so that in the least, established minimum requirements are met across all laboratories. All parties recognize this effort as necessary to improve competency with the ultimate goal to assure confidence in the accuracy and reliability of test results across every nook and cranny.