Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) Regional Laboratory Association (SRLA): OUR UNIQUE SUCCESS STORY
The SADC Regional Laboratory Association (SRLA) was established over a decade ago in order to support, assist and empower member states by providing them with a regional platform and voice. Furthermore, the SRLA promotes the importance of laboratories in the SADC economy; strengthens both management and technical capacity through training and interventions; builds and broaden skills of analysts; strengthens the capacity of food and water testing laboratories and assists members with accreditation in their respective laboratories.
Unique to the African landscape, the Mopane tree is hardy and can withstand the harsh African heat and often dry habitat. In order to flourish in a tough environment, its ‘butterfly’ leaves open and close to protect it from moisture loss. It is also resistant to termites but home to the Mopani worms after the rainy season and eaten as a staple food in some African cultures.
Much like the Mopane tree, the SRLA started as a seed, grew roots and started to flourish in challenging and often tough environments – working together to bear fruit (legumes) to be enjoyed by all SADC member states.
The resilience of the SRLA members was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic when the demand for the services of the members was critical and laboratories were declared as essential services.
In developing the Quality Infrastructure (QI) of the South African Development Community (SADC) member states (MSs) it became evident that there would be a large reliance on the services of testing and calibration laboratories in support of trade. In the mid 2000’s, inspired by the National Laboratory Association – South Africa (NLA-SA), twelve (12) SADC Member States initiated the formation of their own associations in order to mobilise support and capacity building opportunities for their more than 500 members.
The SRLA is incorporated as a “Not for Profit (NPC) company with a Board of Directors guiding strategy and the secretariat being the heart of the regional association is held by the NLA-SA.
The SRLA liaises with the members of the SADC Technical Cooperation Structures as described in the TBT Annex to the SADC Protocol on Trade especially during events to raise awareness of the role of standards, quality assurance, accreditation and metrology (SQAM) in facilitating trade during World Metrology Day (20 May), World Accreditation Day (09 June) and World Standards Day (14 October).
The SRLA members and the National Accreditation Focal Points (NAFPs) that represent Member States without their own National Accreditation Body (NAB) has formed a platform for the MS-NLAs and NAFPs to meet and exchange knowledge and experiences, as well as to identify potential synergies and linkages. The main areas of collaboration include training on quality management systems and technical capacity building; marketing and awareness-raising events on the importance of accreditation; and, the establishment of a harmonized database of CABs in the region.
The SRLA became a Stakeholder Member of the African Accreditation Cooperation (AFRAC) in March 2020. Furthermore, the SRLA interacts with the members of the Infra-African Metrology System (AFRIMETS) during the General Assembly meetings.
Whilst the SRLA’s main focus is the CABs in the various member states, it is recognized that SADC is an integral part of the continent and thus the SRLA has a long-term goal to bring CABs in the Pan-African context together in meaningful structure.
The strategy can be outlined by the following 5 objectives:
• To promote the importance of laboratories in the SADC economy;
• To strengthen both management and technical capacity through training and interventions;
• To build and broaden skills;
• To strengthen the capacity of food and water testing laboratories
• To assist members with accreditation in their respective laboratories
In June 2016, a Gap Assessment tool was developed where a survey was conducted to evaluate additional needs that may exist within the SADC region in the area of Testing, Calibration and
Medical laboratories. Then, in 2017, 2018 and 2019, three training courses were presented, namely
(a) Business and Strategic Plan Development Training
in order to upskill members to have a clear understanding of how to run their association sustainably, to draft a business plan and associated documents for each MS-NLA.
(b)Method Validation for Microbiology laboratory personnel
The objective of this training was to build technical capacity in the MS-NLA to supply microbiology training services to public and private sector microbiology testing laboratories in the Member State (MS), in particular Method Validation and Method Uncertainty for microbiology test methods for food and water. In addition, the training was aimed at preparing microbiology testing laboratories to comply with the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025
(c) Method Validation Analytical
The Method Validation (Analytical) training course provided candidates with a fundamental understanding of the importance of Quality Control and Quality Assurance in a laboratory, as well
as the reasons for conducting Method Validation. It provided, also, the tools for conducting Method Validation and the methodology for approaching this requirement. Candidates had
sufficient opportunity to reinforce the theoretical aspects with practical and hands-on assignments on a daily basis.
RESULTS AND IMPACT
To date, 339 individuals have been trained in the 5 different fields.
Business and Strategic Plan Development Training
• Value Proposition
• Business Model
• Marketing and Sales
• Budgeting and Financial Reporting
• Competitor Analysis
• Participation in the annual Test & Measurement Conference in South Africa
• Collaboration with National Accreditation Focal Points in SADC Member States and participation in the annual regional SADC Technical Cooperation Structures’ meetings
• Finance for Laboratory Managers Course developed and offered virtually
Best Performing SRLA Member
• The first SRLA award was made during the first virtual meeting held on 27 May 2020
National Laboratory Association-South Africa
Tel. +27 12 349 1500
Fax. +27 12 349 1501