Objective: To describe the experience of strengthening laboratory diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) in a resource-limited country with high TB-HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) prevalence.
Methods: In the Kingdom of Lesotho, which is confronted with high levels of TB, MDR-TB and HIV prevalence, between 2006 and 2008 a coalition of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, Partners In Health and the World Health Organization renovated the National TB Reference Laboratory and reinforced microscopy services, streamlined conventional culture and drug susceptibility testing (DST) and introduced modern TB diagnostic methods.
Findings: It was feasible to establish a biosafety level three facility for solid culture and DST and an external quality assessment programme for smear microscopy within 4 months, all in 2007. Liquid culture and DST were introduced a month later. Preliminary results were comparable to those found in laboratories in industrialised countries. A year later, line-probe assay for the rapid detection of MDR-TB was introduced.
Discussion: Through strong political commitment and collaboration, it is possible to rapidly establish quality assured TB diagnostic capacity, including current methods, in a resource-limited setting. Case detection and management for TB and MDR-TB have been greatly enhanced. From a low baseline, TB culture throughput in the laboratory increased ten-fold and has been sustained. This experience has served as a catalyst to translate policy into practice with new diagnostic technologies. It supports global policy setting to enhance and modernise laboratory work in developing countries.