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10 Jul 2020

Laboratory support to assist Pacific Island countries in the diagnosis of COVID-19

The Doherty Institute is providing laboratory support to Pacific Island countries for diagnosis of COVID-19 with the support of the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The 12 month program will provide high-level strategy support and advice for the implementation of laboratory diagnostics in Pacific Island countries for COVID-19.

It will include implementation of molecular diagnostics, validation of emerging point of care tests, laboratory biosafety and quality, specimen storage and transport, and laboratory staff training and capacity building.

Professor Patrick Reading from the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Doherty Institute said the program will provide support to the Solomon Islands and other Pacific Island countries, in close collaboration with counterparts in the region.

Specifically, the Institute will be providing laboratory support for the Solomon Islands National Referral Hospital in Honiara that recently received a qPCR machine from Australia which means that the Solomon Islands will have a greater diagnostic capacity for a range of diseases, including COVID-19.  This support includes procurement, packaging and delivery of consumables as well as support for validation from the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Doherty Institute. 

In addition, training (initially remotely) of laboratory technicians to support the implementation of the qPCR machine is being provided. 

“The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to establish systems for the diagnosis of infectious diseases in the Pacific to rapidly inform clinical care, public health responses and surveillance,” Professor Reading said.

“Limited laboratory infrastructure leaves our region vulnerable to outbreaks – this qPCR system will allow the Solomon Islands to test for any emerging pathogen in a matter of weeks rather than months after first identification.”

Deputy Director of the Microbiological Diagnostics Unit Public Health Laboratory, Professor Deborah Williamson is a co-investigator on the project.

“We are also providing advice and guidance on the performance and validation of serological assays, with a particular focus on point of care tests.  Such information is critical given the wide variety of tests now available,” she said.

This program is an extension of the Doherty Institute’s antimicrobial resistance program of support to the Pacific Islands.