Education overview: Clinical laboratory technicians in Sierra Leone

During December 2015, I had the privilege of working in the Public Health England (PHE) Ebola diagnostic laboratories in Port Loko and Makeni, Sierra Leone, where I met and worked with several of the local clinical laboratory staff: Hassan Bangura, Bockarie Koroma and Sorie Kargbo.

I had met and worked with Hassan Bangura (picture below) in Port Loko while on deployment at the PHE laboratory during August 2015,then again in December 2015. Hassan studied for a BSc in Aquaculture and Fisheries, and is currently completing his MSc at Njala University. While doing his MSc, Hassan Bangura worked as a Laboratory Liaison Officer at the PHE Port Loko laboratory where he learned further laboratory skills, such as sample reception, data entry, sample extraction, RNA extraction and the PCR procedure. His dream is to work as a laboratory technician or have his own fish farm (Hassan later joined us in Makeni).

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Bokarie Koroma (below,right) and Sorie Kargbo (below,left) work as clinical laboratory technicians in Makeni General Hospital, Sierra Leone. They completed the National Diploma in Medical Laboratory Sciences at the Eastern Polytechnic in Kenema. This is a full-time, 2 year programme with 3 terms per year (Oct – Dec, Jan – Apr, Apr – July) with exams at the end of each term and the final National Certificate for Technical and Vocational Award (NCTVA) exam at the end of the diploma.

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They studied the following subjects:

  • Microbiology: Bacteriology, parasitology, virology, immunology and mycology. Students attend at least 2 hours of lectures per day and get practical laboratory training in the final 2 months of their diploma;
  • Haematology and blood banking;
  • Histopathology;
  • Community Development Studies (CDS): taught how to interact and work with local communities, as well as traditional healers;
  • Communication skills: English; how to communicate with medical personnel and foreigners working with NGO’s etc.;
  • Principles of the Laboratory: Safety, ethics etc.;
  • Information Technology

The programme costs students more than 1,145,000 Leones per year (current exchange rate: $1 = 5,000 Leones) and the students have to work during vacations to finance their studies.  Bockarie works on a rice farm that he owns with his mother, where they plant both swamp and land rice from July – August, harvesting November – December. Sorie worked as a volunteer in a hospital, while his mother is a street trader selling cooked rice.

Both Bokarie and Sorie have now completed their Diploma and are working in the clinical diagnostic laboratory at Makeni General Hospital, with 21 staff and 12 assistants in the laboratory that work early, late and night shifts. Time and finances permitting, both Bokarie and Sorie plan to study for a degree level programme under the auspices of the College of Medicine in Freetown and the University of Makeni.

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[School consisted of 6 years in primary school and then a further 6 years in secondary school, the latter completed with the West African Senior Secondary Schools Certificate (WASSCE). Scholars study two languages in primary school, English and the local language, e.g. Mende, and learn Krio in secondary school.  Students specialize, e.g. in the sciences, during years 4, 5 and 6 of secondary school.] 

Sierra Leone map

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