Tackling the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) will benefit from a renewal of funding for a major Burnet Institute-led project.
Supported by the Fleming Fund – a £265 million UK Aid program to address AMR in low- and middle-income countries – the project brings together experts in animal and human health, microbiology and surveillance, information technology and construction to support PNG’s domestic response to AMR.
AMR occurs when microbes (including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites) develop resistance to medicines over time. Indeed, AMR has been declared one of the top ten global public health threats by the World Health Organization.
AMR is complicating the global fight against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, as once medicines become ineffective, infections persist in the body increasing the risk of transmission.
The Fleming Fund project embraces a One Health approach that recognises that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.
Image: The British High Commissioner to PNG HE Keith Scott visits the laboratory at Port Moresby General Hospital
The Fleming Fund Country Grant for PNG was radically reduced by the British Government in March 2021 partly due to costs linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, late in March 2022 funding was reinstated enabling the original project design to be re-established and to continue, in the first instance, until the end of 2022.
It aims to strengthen surveillance and monitoring in the human and animal health sectors in PNG through the establishment of working groups across key sectors, the training of laboratory personnel in biosafety and lab management and enhancing laboratory infrastructure to support surveillance and diagnostic capabilities for AMR.
Program Director, Professor Robert Power AM, said the primary aim of this next phase is to proceed with a limited program of laboratory renovation and refurbishment (with a reference laboratory in Port Moresby) and to establish sentinel sites elsewhere in the country that will collect and analyse samples and data.
“The funding will enable work to resume to transport and instal essential laboratory equipment and to train staff in its use,” Professor Power said.
“In fact, a team of experts from Australia has just returned from a first visit to PNG to get this work underway.”
Senior Technical Advisor, Dr Amrita Ronnachit noted: “We are entering an exciting phase where we hope to establish a robust functioning AMR surveillance system in PNG.”
“The challenges we face will be continuing to bring together the many multi-sectoral stakeholders to work under the one health framework, working closely with the National Antimicrobial Steering Committee.”
Image: New laboratory equipment ready to be unpacked at Port Moresby General Hospital
Her thoughts were echoed by Fleming Fund Country Grant PNG Team Leader, Dr Stenard Yingiang Hiasihri.
“The Fleming Fund is indeed a blessing to PNG in its response to AMR,” Dr Hiasihri said.
“We take this new period as the opportunity to get the basic pillars in place and to establish a sentinel laboratory site in Port Moresby and do our best with this opportunity that has been placed on us.”
Another significant development was the visit of British High Commissioner to PNG, HE Keith Scott to the laboratory facilities at Port Moresby General Hospital for an update on progress and plans.
“I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed visiting the lab at Port Moresby General Hospital,” Mr Scott said.
“It was great to see equipment there and getting up and running, but it was even better to see first-hand the enthusiasm and commitment of the whole team on the ground.
“I just wish I could bottle some of that energy for use at other times! I look forward to future visits and continuing to support the program.”
As Professor Power notes: “The High Commissioner’s comments sum up the excitement and optimism we all feel in moving froward in addressing this important public health threat to PNG and beyond.”