NTRL resumes TB lab assessment activities, completes pilot online approach
As part of the live online competency assessment, staff from the Cagayan Valley Regional TB Reference Laboratory prepares the materials needed for laboratory work under the supervision of the NTRL team.

As part of the quality assurance services provided by the country’s tuberculosis (TB) culture laboratory network, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine through its National TB Reference Laboratory (NTRL) resumed its TB laboratory assessment activities, two (2) years after the COVID-19 pandemic hampered operations.

NTRL has conducted an individual assessment of 20 laboratories nationwide in 2022, in which six (6) activities were done purely online.

NTRL’s challenges due to COVID-19

Assessing TB culture laboratories is one of NTRL’s core activities in fulfillment of its mandate of providing external quality assessment (EQA), and high-quality technical assistance to the national TB laboratory network. Conducting these on-site proved to be difficult at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In lieu of on-site activities, NTRL continued to remotely monitor the performance of TB laboratories through the quarterly desktop analysis of laboratory performance indicators (LPI) routinely reported by laboratories in the network. Feedback and recommendations were discussed virtually with the TB culture laboratories and regional TB program teams.

It is important that our monitoring activities for the laboratories continue since our laboratory services to our patients never stopped even while the pandemic is ongoing,” explained NTRL Head Dr. Ramon Basilio.

Nevertheless, NTRL recognizes that a more focused, individual assessment of TB culture laboratories remains an essential component of quality assurance.

 “We must maintain the quality of the laboratory network, and maintain the trust that our doctors and patients have in the results that are released,” added Dr. Basilio.

NTRL surmounts the pandemic roadblock

NTRL assessment teams complete the feedback sessions with staff from the different TB culture laboratories assessed, regional TB program coordinators, and other relevant partners.

In response to the challenge, NTRL developed a purely online means of assessing TB culture laboratories, and piloted this strategy to six (6) laboratories nationwide: Cagayan Valley Regional TB Reference Laboratory (Region II), De La Salle Medical and Health Sciences Institute (Region IV), Dr. Arturo P. Pingoy Medical Center (Region XII), Jamelarin Hospital (Region IX), Western Visayas Medical Center (Region VI), and Zamboanga City Medical Center (Region IX).

[The] online laboratory assessment conducted by the NTRL really help[ed] us to ensure that we are performing the procedures correctly, and that we are reporting accurately based on the standards set,” remarked Zamboanga City Medical Center TB culture laboratory staff Fatiha Alamanon Alamuddin, RMT.

The activity enjoined TB culture laboratory staff to answer an electronic assessment form, submit the said form with supporting documentation, and participate in a live online discussion and staff competency assessment. Each laboratory was evaluated on the seven (7) key areas affecting TB laboratory operations, services, and performance. NTRL assessment teams also highlighted a laboratory’s best practices, identified their challenges, and provided recommendations for improvement.

We are grateful that even in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, they still reach out, and find ways to check on us,” added Ms. Alamuddin.

Cognizant of the benefits provided by the online activity to TB culture laboratories, NTRL is poised to make it one of its routine approaches in conducting TB laboratory assessment activities this 2023 onwards.

The TB culture laboratory network is overseen and monitored by NTRL through its Laboratory Network Strengthening Section (NTRL-LNSS), supervised by Ms. Ma. Cecilia Vanessa Serrano. This year’s TB laboratory assessment teams are composed of Brassicae Mabansag, Earl Christian Mantes, Paola Mae Arbilo, Ray Anne Bianca Barkin, Ronalyn Joy Armijo, Sheena Jennifer Lee, and Vince Carlo Carandang.

by Earl Christian Mantes, National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory