Global Fund boost for detection of infectious diseases in Indo-Pacific

A consortium of Australia’s leading infectious disease research centres – the Kirby, Doherty, and Burnet Institutes – together with international collaborators, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics – will strengthen laboratory capacity for testing and diagnosis of COVID-19, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis in our region.

The $5,204,667 in funding for this collaboration is part of Australia’s $242 million commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The focus of this work was developed in partnership between Australia and the Global Fund, and will maximise the impact of related Global Fund investments.

“With COVID-19 cases rising in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, there have been growing concerns about how the increased pressure on health systems will impact existing programs to eliminate malaria, tuberculosis and HIV,” said Professor Anthony Kelleher, Director of the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney.

“This investment from the Australian Government will allow us to work with our partners in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Laos PDR to enhance local laboratory capacity which is essential for the accurate diagnosis of these infectious diseases, and which is stretched by the heightened challenges brought on by COVID-19.”

Burnet Institute Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr Philipp Du Cros said COVID-19 has challenged every country’s health system.

“There is the risk of reduced services and reversal of recent gains in HIV, TB and malaria programs,” Dr Du Cros said.

“This investment is a much-needed opportunity to support improved diagnostic capacity and experience sharing within the region.”

Professor Deborah Williamson from the Doherty Institute said it was essential to move
quickly.

“Infectious diseases require a constant foot on the pedal. Lifting it even slightly is
enough to see rapid resurgence of diseases that we have been working hard to bring under control,” Professor Williamson said.

“This is a critical time for the management of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV in many
countries of our region, and this investment from the Australian Government will help
ensure crucial gains achieved are not lost while at the same time enhancing testing capacity for COVID-19.”

Rising cases of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea have highlighted regional health security concerns when infectious diseases are not contained in our neighbouring countries.

“The grant is designed to improve impact of Global Fund’s work in our region through lab strengthening of countries to carry out the critical task of testing and diagnosis,” says Australia’s Ambassador for Regional Health Security, Dr Stephanie Williams.

“It will also continue to strengthen technical partnerships between experts in Australia’s world-class institutions and their regional counterparts.”

In recent years there has been many technological developments in testing for infectious
diseases.

Tests are now more accurate, can be conducted and analysed more easily, and are
performed at the local level.

This collaboration will investigate how best to integrate these technologies into existing health systems and in resource poor settings.

Professor William Pomat from the PNG Institute of Medical Research welcomed the
announcement.

“We have a longstanding partnership with the Kirby Institute, and have achieved many important health outcomes through our collaborative efforts,” Professor Pomat said.

“This new collaboration will help set PNG on the best possible path to improve the detection of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in our country, as well as improve our capability to do COVID-19 testing.

“An added benefit of this collaboration is that it will bring together the expertise of other leading research centres, as well as the experiences of other countries in our region, so we can each learn from each other’s experiences.”

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