Combatting Global Infectious Diseases: A Network Effect of Specimen Referral Systems
The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa clearly demonstrated the critical role of laboratory systems and networks in responding to epidemics. Because of the huge challenges in establishing functional laboratories at all tiers of health systems in developing countries, strengthening specimen referral networks is critical. In this review article, we propose a platform strategy for developing specimen referral networks based on 2 models: centralized and decentralized laboratory specimen referral networks. These models have been shown to be effective in patient management in programs in resource-limited settings. Both models lead to reduced turnaround time and retain flexibility for integrating different specimen types. In Haiti, decentralized specimen referral systems resulted in a 182% increase in patients enrolling in human immunodeficiency virus treatment programs within 6 months. In Uganda, cost savings of up to 62% were observed with a centralized model. A platform strategy will create a network effect that will benefit multiple disease programs.