Wendy Stevens • TEDxJohannesburgSalon
A blueprint for the future of testing labs in Africa
The COVID-19 pandemic has spectacularly demonstrated the value of testing laboratories in a way that we had never seen before. Professor Wendy Stevens, a global leader in HIV and TB-related laboratory medicine, points out that testing for COVID-19 has generally been chaotic—globally and in Africa—during the pandemic. African laboratories will need to make significant design changes to ensure that they can thrive in the future. They will need to invest in two critical areas: molecular technologies and information systems. The barriers are real, but the challenges are not insurmountable. Two crucial factors could boost the continent’s chances of success. Firstly, one in four people on the planet will be African by 2050. The majority will be young, and by definition, hungry for innovation. Secondly, the dynamics of innovation diffusion—combined with the exponential effects of technology—present tantalising possibilities for leapfrogging. With this picture of hope set, Wendy goes on to alert us to two red flags. One is the well-documented threat that lockdown fatigue poses. The other is the unintended consequences of declines in HIV and TB testing that parts of the continent suffered due to COVID-19. Wendy closes on a hopeful note: if the world could collaborate on future pandemics as it has on COVID-19, that would be the undeniable silver lining.