Stop TB Partnership

Riders for health expands partnership with The Union on TB test sample transport

23 August 2013 - Harare, Zimbabwe - Riders for Health, a not-for-profit social enterprise that manages transport for health care delivery, continues to expand its partnership with The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) in Zimbabwe.

In 2010 Riders for Health established a partnership with The Union which uses motorcycle couriers and specialized equipment to create a sample transport system for patient specimens and results between primary health facilities and laboratories.

The goal of the programme is to increase access to laboratory-based testing at clinics across Zimbabwe and to reduce the turnaround time between the collection of specimens and the return of results to patients.

Kameko Nichols, Riders’ partnership director in Africa, said ‘One of the biggest challenges for health systems in rural Africa is how to ensure the quick and reliable transportation of medical samples. Our sample transport system has proven to be very effective at overcoming distance and lack of existing infrastructure, dramatically reducing testing times and increasing reliability, for patients.

Riders for Health’s partnership with The Union started in three urban regions of Zimbabwe in 2010, before expanding to five rural districts in 2012. In March 2013 the districts of Victoria Falls, Kwekwe, Gwanda, Masvingo, Mutare, and Gweru, were brought into the system.

Before work began, Riders’ team in Zimbabwe assessed the terrain and distances between facilities in each of these districts, allowing them to design the most efficient routes for couriers. They also carried out a baseline monitoring and evaluation study, and sensitized district and laboratory staff.

All the couriers recruited were given full training by Riders in how to ride their motorcycle safely, and how to carry out basic maintenance. The ongoing support includes preventive maintenance of the motorcycles, removing the risk of breakdown and ensuring the reliability of the service.

Riders for Health provides regular programme monitoring, and close collaboration with The Union to continuously improve results.

In August 2013 a programme assessment report showed that between March and May 2013 the couriers transported over 15,000 patient specimens each month. These included sputum for TB diagnosis, as well as blood samples for HIV monitoring, and various other specimen types.

The sample transport programme in Zimbabwe replicates a similar system established by Riders for Health in Lesotho in 2008, and the model has since been expanded to Zambia and Malawi.

Riders for Health continues to explore new partnerships to replicate the programme and strengthen laboratory networks across sub-Saharan Africa.