13 May 2014 - Beginning in 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has created and developed a Laboratory Mapping Tool (LMT). The LMT is a system by which to assess the functionality of veterinary laboratories following a two-tiered process: i) an assessment of laboratory functionality is conducted via a detailed and standardized questionnaire that can be led by an external assessor or via self-assessment; and ii) the data collected is fed into a digital application which generates graphs and tables allowing for a "snapshot" view of a given laboratory's level of functionality and its evolution over time – which can be made on a yearly basis. Understanding where diagnostic laboratory's gaps lie is crucial in order to emphasize capacity building in particular areas and develop strategic plans that will correspond to individual laboratory needs and that will address all key elements for an operational laboratory. The tool also serves to establish a baseline for laboratory status prior to an intervention, allowing an accurate measurement of progress and impact post-intervention.
Originally, this tool was developed and used under the IDENTIFY project of the Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) programme funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The aim of the project was for veterinary laboratories to achieve rapid, accurate and sustainable detection of targeted diseases in areas considered high-risk for the emergence of unknown animal or human diseases (i.e. Central Africa and South and Southeast Asia). Over time, the FAO tool was improved through users' feedback. All beneficiary laboratories of the IDENTIFY project have accepted to conduct this mapping exercise every year. The data has also been compiled in each region to enable a regional vision for the development of these laboratories.
The innovative use of the LMT as a standardized tool with which to improve laboratory standards has attracted attention with veterinary laboratories beyond the three areas in focus requesting to use it. FAO has therefore decided to release it publicly on the Emergency Prevention System for Animal Health (EMPRES-AH) website in May 2014 as well as through a targeted email campaign in order to reach out to all levels of animal health workers, from Chief Veterinary Officers to laboratory experts. This will mean that the tool may be used by any veterinary laboratory in any region or by any development partners working on veterinary laboratory capacity building, to assess a given laboratory functionality and identify priorities and gaps through a comparison with good practice scenarios.
Every laboratory that uses LMT will be able to generate its profile or "map" including automatic calculations that allow each user to visualize the status for the laboratory. The LMT assesses five areas of the laboratory: i) general profile; ii) infrastructure, equipment and supplies; iii) performance; iv) quality assurance, biosafety and biosecurity; and v) collaboration and networking. Within these five areas, 17 categories and 108 subcategories have been established in order to refine the categorization of a laboratory and define its status.
For the future, FAO plans to develop an online page where laboratories will be able to download their assessments and compare their status on an anonymous basis with others at national, regional and global levels. This will act as a further incentive to improve laboratory functionality and capacity. The LMT results can also be used as a form of validation for individual laboratory status in fundraising negotiations. It is a helpful tool that allows laboratories to enhance their profile nationally, regionally and globally, stimulating them to improve their functionality according to a wide-reaching network.