Managing supplies and specimens in the field

Managing the large quantities of supplies and specimens in the field requires rigorous record keeping, tracking, and monitoring at every level. Data collection forms for these management tasks are described in Module 11: Data collection tools, field manual, and database.

Distribution of items to field teams

After training and pilot testing, and immediately prior to departure to the field, all supplies and equipment for the main survey should be assembled and issued to teams. Depending on the field plan and scheduled meetings with regional coordinators, teams should receive the equipment that will be used throughout the survey and enough supplies for the first three to five clusters. The remaining supplies and spare equipment should be split among the regional coordinators, who will need to store them securely for later distribution. This approach reduces the risk of loss or theft during fieldwork, and it also uses less space in the already-crowded survey vehicles. A schedule needs to be drawn up for providing supplies to the field teams and for collecting specimens and survey-generated waste.

As described in Module 9: Survey equipment and supplies,extra equipment and supplies should be purchased in case items get lost, broken, or stolen. These additional items need to be managed in such a way to allow quick dissemination to teams as required. Each team should carry spares of things such as batteries, mobile devices, stationery and plastic bags. Team leaders should also have cash to buy some of these items in the field if needed and available. It is not uncommon for vehicles to break down or become damaged during fieldwork, and a backup plan should be in place in case this happens.

Daily list of supplies and equipment

Every team member should have a checklist of the type and quantity of supplies and equipment required for their daily fieldwork. The checklist should be reviewed in the evening to account for all supplies used, to estimate additional supply needs for the following day, to check that all equipment is present and functioning and that devices are fully charged, as applicable.

An example of a Daily supply list per team can be found in the online tools.

Every evening, the laboratory technician should review the supply stocks and the list of expected supply needs, and make sure that there are sufficient supplies for several days of fieldwork. When there are only about five days’ worth of supplies left, the technician should contact the Regional supervisor to coordinate another delivery. Supply stock-outs could delay fieldwork, with related implications on costs and logistics.

The laboratory technician should also work with the Team leader to ensure that there is sufficient freezer space for the expected number of new specimens, that there are enough frozen gel packs for the next day’s work, and that transport to the central laboratory is scheduled as needed.

Equipment maintenance and transportation during fieldwork

All equipment must be carefully maintained during fieldwork. One team member should be designated to check the working condition of all equipment at the end of each day and to report any concerns to the Team leader. Field equipment items (such as scales and portable photometers) should be stored in their carrying cases when not in use to help protect them from dust and humidity. Special care must be taken to protect equipment from excessive movement during transportation in vehicles. Funds may be set aside in the budget to hire help to transport items when necessary.

Transfer of specimens in the field

Any specimens that need to be transferred must be logged and accounted for at every point of transfer. This includes transfers from the household to the field laboratory, from the field laboratory to the regional laboratory, from the regional laboratory to the central laboratory and, when indicated, from the central laboratory to an international laboratory. The Cluster log form should have spaces to mark when samples have arrived at the next stage of transfer, and the same checks should be used at each transfer point between the cluster and the regional and central laboratories (as appropriate), with space to note the person responsible for the transfer at each stage.

All specimens should be accompanied by a Specimen tracking form that indicates the barcode. In some surveys there are two specimen tracking forms: a Specimen tracking form for the phlebotomist and a Specimen tracking form for the laboratory technician. The barcode contains the unique ID for the specimen that includes a code for the household and cluster number. The total number and type of biological specimens and food samples collected from each household within a cluster should be recorded on the Cluster control form, and then summarized on the Cluster summary sheet for each cluster. These three types of forms are explained in Box 13.1.

Box 13.1 Forms for specimen transfer

Specimen tracking form The specimen tracking form is used to provide detailed information on the number of aliquots that were generated from each biological specimen. It indicates where they are stored during transport, by cryovial box number and by a unique identifier such as the barcode. The specimen tracking form contains individual-level information, while the cluster log form contains summarized information. Depending on the design of the forms, they can be a single form.
Cluster log form The cluster log form may also be called a “transmittal form”. This is the document that records signatures and the number of biological specimens or food samples to ensure accountability and prevent specimen loss in transit.
Cluster summary sheet The cluster summary sheet tracks the number of interviews, the number of biological specimens and the number of food samples that are collected by target population (or per household) per cluster.

When specimens are received at the field laboratory, they should be checked against the transmittal form (cluster log form) for matching barcodes. When they do not match, the Team leader should work with the individuals who did the collection or processing to find and correct errors. Any remaining discrepancies between the transfer form and the specimens should be noted on the cluster summary sheet and explained.

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