Public health laboratories (PHLs) provide vital services to public health systems which are geared towards the prevention and control of diseases and the improvement of the health of populations. Surveillance is therefore a key function of public health laboratories and for an effective laboratory surveillance system, good communication between the laboratories and epidemiologists is required.
The key core functions of public health laboratories are:
- Identification of disease outbreaks and related pathogens through the examination of specimen; identification and location of source(s) of infection detection of new pathogens which have the potential to spread;
- Provision of reference services, which includes the identification of unusual pathogens;
- Testing for emerging and re-emerging diseases which are of public health importance;
- Chemical and microbiological testing of environmental samples such as food, air, water and soil to assess quality;
- Research, including discovery of new and emerging pathogens, development of new test methodologies, population studies such as screening for chronic diseases like diabetes, neonatal screening for microcephaly;
- Data gathering and rapid dissemination to epidemiologists and other decision makers;
- Training of laboratory and technical personnel
Through these core functions, the general public is protected from disease outbreaks through the early identification of pathogens accompanied by appropriate treatment and preventive measures to prevent disease spread and identify at-risk populations.