Original Research

Invisible and undervalued: A qualitative study of laboratory workers’ experiences and perceptions of laboratory strengthening in Sierra Leone

Mohamed B. Jalloh, Eva Vernooij, Alice Street
African Journal of Laboratory Medicine | Vol 13, No 1 | a2292 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajlm.v13i1.2292 | © 2024 Mohamed B. Jalloh, Eva Vernooij, Alice Street | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 August 2023 | Published: 31 May 2024

About the author(s)

Mohamed B. Jalloh, Research Unit, Joint Medical Unit, Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces; and, Department of Community Health, Faculty of Clinical Sciences, College of Medicine & Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Eva Vernooij, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
Alice Street, Department of Social Anthropology, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Abstract

Background: The 2013–2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak highlighted the importance of laboratory capacity to outbreak response while also revealing its long-standing neglect. The outbreak prompted massive international investment into strengthening laboratory services across multiple healthcare settings.

Objective: In this article, we explore hospital-based clinical laboratory workers’ experiences and perceptions of their everyday working environment in Sierra Leone, and how recent investments in laboratory strengthening have shaped these.

Methods: This qualitative study draws on in-depth interviews with eight laboratory workers and participant observation of laboratory practices at a tertiary referral hospital in Freetown between April 2019 and December 2019. Interview and observational data were coded and analysed using a reflexive thematic approach.

Results: The Ebola outbreak prompted international investments in automated devices, biosafety training, and a new dedicated infectious diseases laboratory. However, little investment was made in the infrastructure and supply systems needed to sustain routine laboratory work or keep machines functioning. Laboratory workers perceived their work to be under-recognised and undervalued by the government, hospital managers and clinical staff, a perception compounded by under-use of the hospital’s laboratory services by clinicians.

Conclusion: Understanding laboratory technicians’ views, experiences, and priorities is essential to any sustainable laboratory-strengthening effort. Investments in personnel should match investments in technologies and infrastructure for outbreak response.

What this study adds: This study contributes to an understanding of how clinical laboratory personnel in Sierra Leone view and experience their work, and introduces the concept of social invisibility to explain these experiences.


Keywords

Ebola outbreak; neglect; perceptions; investment; laboratory technicians; laboratory capacity; infrastructure

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

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