The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


09 Nov 2023

Strengthening laboratory capacity: IndoPacLab’s impact on infectious disease testing

Together with a consortium which include the Kirby Institute, the Burnet Institute, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), the Doherty Institute delivers the Strengthening Laboratory and Diagnostic Capacity in the Indo-Pacific program (IndoPacLab). Funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the capacity building program aims to strengthen laboratory functions for accurate, timely and scalable testing of COVID-19, HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos).  

To mark the final phase of the program, a Tri-Country Forum was held in Cambodia in October 2023. All the partners of the gathered in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to provide an overview of the work achieved in each of the three countries. The forum also presented an opportunity for the different laboratories to discuss and share best practice, including integrated testing, data management, laboratory information systems, laboratory networks and sustainability. 

Doherty Institute’s Jacqueline Prestedge, Research Program Manager at The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) and at the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Melbourne, shared her thoughts on the event. 

“We started this project during the COVID-19 pandemic when travel wasn’t an option. It was great to finally have everyone together to share achievements, learn from each other and strengthen relationships in the region,” said Ms Prestedge. 

The Doherty Institute’s focus in the IndoPacLab program was to enhance quality, capacity and safety of laboratory testing for high-impact infectious diseases in the COVID-19 era. By conducting a needs assessment and identifying areas of support, the Institute’s team was able to provide tailored support to provincial and district laboratories which included strengthening of quality management systems.  

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Navin Karan, Training and Capacity Manager at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute, highlighted the impact of the IndoPacLab consortium. 

“As a part of the IndoPacLab consortium, we were able to offer a range of expertise and tailor support to individual countries, based on their specific needs and priorities. It was great to see practical examples, such as Lao PDR piloting a national laboratory information management system (LIMS) and PNG focusing on training lab managers including in remote laboratories,” said Mr Karan. 

“It was fantastic to see a laboratory network forming in the region, as a platform to provide ongoing mentorship and ensure the sustainability of these initiatives beyond the program, as many countries are leveraging this investment to seek further funding support.” 

The impact made by the IndoPacLab program was clearly demonstrated by participants at the forum. It was pleasing to see an engaged participant group, sharing lessons and improvements made throughout the program period, highlighting key improvement areas in laboratory operations, including but not limited to supply chain management, laboratory information systems (LIS) implementation, diagnostic network optimization (DNO) through integrated testing, and quality systems training of trainers (ToT) to name a few across the countries.  

In its final stage, the IndoPacLab Program has enhanced laboratory practices and services for HIV, TB, malaria and COVID-19, led to greater integration of multi-disease PCR platforms, and trained a workforce with additional skills to ensure comprehensive testing. With a focus on sustainability, the consortium aligned workplans with the priorities of each Ministry of Health in the participating countries, promoting local leadership and enhancing networking and collaboration of laboratories across the Indo-Pacific region.