A network of diagnostic excellence

offers the best in pathology services throughout the nation 

On every front page across the continent of Africa, developments in laboratories and their incremental role in the fight against epidemics such as HIV and cancer come top of the news agenda. From new government-led initiatives aimed at inter-linking labs with new organizations, to reports of those applying the latest technology to research development, it appears that the companies continually striving to provide faster, more accurate and vital data are rising to the challenges they face. Amongst these groups is Lancet Laboratories—one of the leading pathology laboratories operating throughout Africa.

Under its company motto, “key to diagnostic excellence,” Lancet has spent almost 60 years providing vital diagnostic and monitoring pathology services in South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. But the company is by no means satisfied yet, as Peter de Wet, Marketing Director, tells TABJ.

“We’re always aiming to be the best we can be. We move on a constant innovation drive to improve the quality of everything we do,” he says.
Between its ongoing growth strategy, skills upgrading and value attributed to individual staff members and its role as a technology leader, Lancet has a lot of good news to impart.

A focus on growth

In growing from a relatively small practice in the Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg in the 1950s, moving to its offices in Richmond some 20 years ago, then carefully commencing trading outside of Johannesburg thereafter, Lancet has demonstrated measured and strategic growth throughout its existence—but there is more to come. Operating in five of the nine provinces in South Africa and a number of African countries looks to be just the beginning for the group, as de Wet says they are now in the process of opening in Nigeria.

“Having moved into Richmond, we were growing fairly rapidly so we began looking at partnerships so that we could expand our service offering within South Africa,” he recalls.

“We entered into an arrangement with Pillay MacIntosh where we acquired them, which then gave us coverage in KwaZulu-Natal. Then about nine years ago we acquired Dyson and Niehaus Laboratories in Pretoria which further expanded our footprint there and in the Limpopo provinces.”

With about 3,500 members of staff and 80 pathologists on board across Lancet’s ever-expanding continent-wide locations, the company is able to offer in the region of 3,600 different tests, covering various locations and offering some of the most cutting edge technology around.

Forging ahead with technology

In March 2010, Lancet opened its P3TB lab—a facility which de Wet says is one of the company’s major focuses for development in terms of the technology it offers today.

“That is a state-of-the-art TB diagnostics centre which not only enables us to diagnose TB very rapidly—within 24 hours—but it also gives our people working in the lab a very clean and sterile environment to work in,” he explains.

“For us the TB lab is a major step forward. The expansion into Africa is a major focus for us too. It is our growth strategy and it ties in with our beliefs that we should be providing international standards of pathology to everybody in Africa.”

Lancet’s SANAS-accredited (South African National Accreditation System) network of labs is audited on a regular basis to ensure that the international standards de Wet speaks of are upheld throughout the various locations under the company’s hold.

“If a doctor is in Nigeria and he needs that result, the result he gets is the equivalent of getting a result in South Africa,” de Wet says as an example.
“Our laboratories are all inter-linked, so people can access results from any one of them electronically and our pathologists can review results from anywhere too.”

This quick and accurate knowledge-sharing allows Lancet to offer a consultancy to doctors throughout Africa and maintain the highest global standards of data across its sites—an attractive option for anyone in need of diagnostics services wherever they may be. Another business area that has undergone technological development lately, and is expanding rapidly, de Wet says, is Lancet’s PCR lab. He explains that this new technique enables more specific and accurate work in testing.

“It’s important—particularly when dealing with a lot of the work in our PCR lab which is biology-based; dealing with the likes of H1N1, HIV, hepatitis A and hepatitis C. That’s a huge development for us,” he adds.

Despite the various growth areas identified, de Wet explains, much of Lancet’s edge and ability to kick such impressive goals comes down to its people on the ground and in the labs throughout the network. Between training, typical staff duration and Lancet’s staunch commitment to corporate/social development throughout its sites, it is clear that the progress made begins with the company’s reliance and value seen in its individual employees across Africa.

It starts and ends with Lancet’s family

In looking at Lancet’s expansion into Nigeria as an example, de Wet explains, the company appears to establish itself in new territories a little differently to many another. The first step is identifying a local partner Lancet intends to work with and assembling a proper deal in terms of legal ownership.

“We then send in literally a task team to help establish the lab or upgrade existing facilities and if necessary up-skill any existing folk and then we pull out. We leave the running of the lab in the hands of the local folk and we do that for a number of reasons,” de Wet says.

“One is as part of our skills development results, and also, you can never have an ex-pat go into an environment and understand the nuances of the interactions in the medical field.”

de Wet says that in Kenya, for instance, what is considered normal practice will not necessarily be the same as that of South Africa. For a non-native entity to best establish itself in a new region, it is important to take on, embrace and utilize the way business is done—not seek to wipe it out.

“You have to take local culture and norms into account too. It’s not just an up-skilling approach, it’s also a hard-nosed realization that we don’t necessarily understand all of the nuances within all of the countries we operate—you have to rely on local folk,” he states.

One way Lancet does this is through its social development involvements—many of which de Wet describes as little pockets of ad-hoc activities run for the community by the Lancet people within it. This approach, in addition to the group’s standard provision of funding and assistance to organizations, means that staff-driven initiatives characterized by location have flourished.

“As a result of the HIV pandemic we have a lot of orphans and these kids need the basics including education. At the moment we’re involved in one school where staff have painted the building and provided books, paper and furniture to stock it,” he says.

“We also run what we call the Lancet Assist Program. This is for folks who fall between services provided by the state and services provided by private insurers—medical aid. There is that body of people in between who aren’t unemployed, so they don’t qualify for state services, but they aren’t earning enough to be able to afford quality medical aid.”

From an environmental perspective, the company also seeks to continuously improve. In dealing with some 1.8 million tests a month, generating countless results in the process, Lancet has realized its work may be paper-intensive and has taken steps to provide its doctors with other means to get results aside from hard copy.

“That includes straight email, Pathviewer which is a program they can download onto their computers to get the data, or Pathportal which is software that enables them to access results on our servers. That cuts down paper use and it’s faster too—the moment a doctor is connected the results are available immediately,” de Wet says.

“Also, we’re dealing with human tissue, so we’re very stringent on our medical disposal. Each department runs its own recycling process too—paper in the department is collected by a recycling company.”

With such a mind to how its employees can be instrumental in the company’s overall success, it is no surprise to discover that a common tenure for a staff member is as much as 20 or 30 years.

“There are so many people here that have been around for a long period of time and a real sense of pride and ownership in being part of the Lancet family,” de Wet says.

“The strength lies in the willingness of our people to go the extra mile and make sure that the doctor gets a result as quickly as possible and to ensure the result is accurate.”

Between its geographical expansion, its drive to provide international standards and utilize new technology, and its value awarded to the individuals throughout Africa that make progress happen, Lancet has a lot to offer. Aside from a vast range of high quality pathology testing which is provided as quickly and accurately as possible wherever and whenever it is required, the company’s arrival in any province marks good news for the community, its employees and the overall network operated by the company. Lancet is linking up more than leading quality pathology testing—it is linking up Africa and every individual with the drive to go a step further.