National laboratory working groups

WHO/Europe assists health ministries and governments implementing the Better Labs for Better Health (BLBH) initiative to establish multisectoral national laboratory working groups (NLWGs). NLWGs have a high level of technical expertise and knowledge of laboratory capacities in country. They are essential to develop a national health laboratory policy and subsequent strategic plans that are in line with existing national health improvement plans and the International Health Regulations (2005). Policies and strategies are needed to ensure that laboratories are governed by appropriate regulations, and receive managerial and technical support and supervision.

The national health laboratory policies and strategies ideally cover all laboratory services for public health (including laboratories for surveillance, environmental testing, food safety, animal health, chemicals and radio nucleotides), as well as clinical diagnostic laboratories, both in the public and private sector. The strategies ensure coordinated future investments into laboratory services by governments and donors alike; therefore, international partners and donors that support laboratory strengthening programmes in countries are invited to participate in NLWG activities.

NLWGs are independent from individual laboratories and, when requested, provide advice and expertise to governments on health laboratory matters. The NLWG serves as the main informant body and discussion partner for the health and other ministries on issues directly or indirectly involving laboratory services in country. NLWG members actively explain and promote the importance of quality laboratory services in the country. Under the Better Labs for Better Health initiative, WHO/Europe provides mentorship and methodologies to the NLWG, which is engaged in a participatory process to:

  • develop a national laboratory policy and, at a later stage, strategic and operational plans; 
  • develop national standards and procedures for laboratories;
  • review the laboratory facility needs, personnel needs, procedures and equipment requirements for national, regional and district levels;
  • develop environmental safety policies;
  • develop a national quality assurance policy;
  • organize an external quality assessment programme in country; and
  • contribute to the development of the laboratory training curriculum standard in all medical training schools and institutionalization of the laboratory internship training programme.

National laboratory working group members

All important stakeholders in the national health laboratory services should be represented in the NLWG to ensure a broadly supported and nationally owned national health laboratory policy. These include:

  • the health and other relevant ministries, for example, education, agriculture, food, environment, finance or labour;
  • managers from national (and possibly regional) public laboratories or laboratory networks, representing clinical, public health, veterinary, food and water safety, agricultural, product safety, chemical and radio nuclear laboratories;
  • managers from private health laboratories;
  • universities and other training institutes providing pre-service or in-service laboratory training;
  • representatives from research groups;
  • practitioners and clinical heads of hospitals as the main customers of clinical laboratory services;
  • laboratory accreditation, certification or licensing bodies;
  • quality assessment programmes;
  • national health insurance providers WHO; and
  • institutes, donors and nongovernmental organizations involved in projects aimed at improving laboratory services.