By Malisema Mahloane

MASERU – Since 2005 she has held the LBTS manager position without fail. Mrs Maleqhoa Nyopa, a medical laboratory scientist by profession since 1983 years has now retired leaving the place she once called home to enjoy her time resting. For her to become a manager at the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Services (LBTS) she underwent intensive educational trainings in the medical laboratory services programme specializing with blood transfusion and hematology (the study of blood cell science). This is her story.

Sharing her journey, Maleqhoa advises that aspirant LBTS managers should be those with medical laboratory technology background and to acquire that, one should have at least studied first general laboratory sciences for three years to attain a diploma at the National Health Training College (NHTC) before advancing in other international institutions. In Lesotho, NHTC specializes with laboratory sciences and blood transfusion. Beyond diploma attainment from NHTC, one is advised to study hematology and blood transfusion in other institutions like Botswana where the university offers a wider and more advanced study of the field.

As stated by Maleqhoa, blood transfusion is not a widely studied program of specialty, in countries like South Africa the program is studied by those who land jobs at the South African Blood Transfusion Services while in other SADC countries it is offered as a course in some science institutions.

With future aspirations to head the LBTS which was founded in 1984, Maleqhoa was obliged to learn about a blood donor programme over and above her medical laboratory science experience. Although this is not a laboratory programme like blood transfusion and hematology, she emphasizes the importance of being conversant on both fields since they are complementary.

“As a manager in the blood transfusion service you interact with blood donors and the community at large while in the laboratory you check what medical problems your patients are likely to have,” Maleqhoa explains.

She further explains that LTBS manager must be equipped with administrative skills particularly people management skills. It their responsibility to oversee the day to day duties of their staff especially those reporting directly to the manager’s office.

It is a known fact that in any workplace, employees may for other private reasons be absent at work hence the need for a responsible manager to be aware of all the staff duties and responsibilities such that they chip in whenever there is need. Despite her intense background in the medical laboratory science field, Maleqhoa is confident that during the course of her leadership she had been able to blend well in all the LBTS departments and beyond. From welcoming donors, collecting blood, offering refreshments for donors, media donor recruitment, counselling patients, procuring resources for LBTS, compiling reports, addressing staff needs, attending ministerial meetings to drafting policies, in her tenure as manager she gave the institution her very best.

“As a manager in this field, do not be pressured by the need for the job or educational qualifications rather by the love for the work,” she adds.

After 18 full years as manager LBTS since holding office in 2005 we ask Maleqhoa now that she is retiring at 60 years what kind of a person she feels will likely undertake office and be impactful.   Without wasting time, she strongly advices a medical doctor at the least. Why a medical doctor?

“Dealing with blood is one of the most sensitive activities, patients react in various ways before and after blood donation. Also some of these are people with medical histories only doctors can understand and approve to proceed with a donation or discourage. In any case of emergency, a doctor should at least be available to attend, she elaborates.”

In the race for better paying jobs and to escape unemployment, a vacant managerial position like this one is sure to attract volumes of candidates from both the medical and the non-medical sectors should ministry of health announce. Maleqhoa agrees that however technical the work seems not all senior positions in the health sector require extreme medical background, LTBS manager post included. Anyone should apply if they see fit. For any leader to succeed in their work, they need to have good leadership skills which they can acquire from various business administration institutions. Somebody with good governance and a proven record is highly demanded in such settings to ensure the organization is running smoothly without administration hindrances.

“Dealing with blood is one of the most sensitive activities, … In any case of emergency, a doctor should at least be available to attend.”

 It is surprising to learn that Maleqhoa herself never attended school at NHTC even though she is praised by masses of laboratory technicians in various fields as “the best lecturer the ever was at NHTC in the MLS diploma blood transfusion.”

Post matric, Maleqhoa joined Medical Laboratory Training Project in 1983 studying general laboratory sciences being microbiology, hematology, blood transfusion, histology, cytology.  Upon completion in 1985, she was a qualified laboratory assistant and immediately landed a job at Motebang Hospital as the only lab worker. She was expected to provide the best and most trusted service alone! Without hesitation she was transferred to Mokhotlong to set up a medical lab there too. In 1986 she returned to MLTP to advance her studies for one year.

The MLTP was a project brought by the Irish aid in Lesotho which was later replaced by NHTC.  Having proven her work ethic in the field, she was awarded a scholarship by the Irish to further advance her studies in Ireland for another two years, it was there where she specialized in blood transfusion field. Upon return in 1991 she resumed work at Motebang hospital.

Having acquired massive medical laboratory experience and skill all over the years, in 1992 Maleqhoa landed with ease laboratory technologist post in an organization she had no idea would be until retirement –  the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Services!

Within no time she was elevated to the position of a principal technologist. It was in 2005 when the then manager LBTS retired and Maleqhoa was confirmed into office which has since served in good conscience until June 2023.

In the 18 years Maleqhoa being in management, she has instituted LBTS policy together with the director general in the ministry of health also in consultation with WHO which was solemnized by the parliament of Lesotho in 2006.  Under her wing, the LBTS services improved massively at the highest standards, a new building which is now the headquarters situated at Bots’abelo Lithabaneng was built. She introduced support service staff for the LBTS and sourced partners to sponsor various activities of the organization.

As she steps out of the LBTS manager office, we ask Maleqhoa is she is confident her work is done also if her successor will easily fit her gigantic boots. She responds confidently and with a smile.

Maleqhoa makes clear “Luckily the acting manager is an internal staff and has been under my wing through the years.  I trust that all the projects I have introduced in this organization and the changes made are not new will be completed without stress, we have worked hand in hand in tough time and I was impressed by the selflessness. Should the incoming manager be external, they should rest assured that the acting manager is a good person who will gladly show them the place and carry on.” 

What does a typical day in the LBTS manager’s office look like?

Morning: log on my laptop, check on the system the previous day reports, the number of donations received, ratio of volunteers to family replacements, requests of blood from hospitals, quantities checked for diseases properly and compile reports.

Midday: go around the various departments to physically check the operations that they are smooth, donors are being served well. Examine where there is staff shortage and help out.

Afternoon: check the medical supplies and prepare orders where needed, follow up on deliveries to the offices where there is critical demand.

Lastly, what satisfies you at the end of the day?

“Going to the laboratories and find the fridges full of blood supplies. Knowing that should any Mosotho be in critical need of blood, of any type, the Lesotho Blood Transfusion Service is able to serve them!” Maleqhoa chuckles.