The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the integral role laboratories play in disease detection and control by providing accurate and timely test results. As the world moves past the emergency phase of the pandemic, recent investments in laboratory diagnostics need to be sustained to ensure public health systems are able to detect and identify a wide array of priority diseases.
“The emergency phase of COVID-19 is over, but there is still a public health threat out there from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Laboratory testing remains one of the critical tools that countries must use to understand their epidemiological situation and inform an appropriate response, link positive cases to early care and treatment, and ultimately save lives,” explained Dr Nuha Mahmoud, Team Lead for Pacific Health Security and Communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization Division of Pacific Technical Support.
Laboratory capacity in Pacific island countries and areas has long been uneven. Some countries have had enough resources to establish and maintain well-functioning national public health laboratories. However, many countries have faced a lack of funding, insufficient equipment and supplies, and limited qualified staff.
Driven by the heightened demand during the pandemic, ministries of health across the Pacific have spent the past few years strengthening their laboratory services with support from partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO). By the end of the pandemic, all Pacific island countries had capacity for laboratory testing of COVID-19. This capacity now needs to be maintained and further built upon, including to expand the scope of diseases able to be tested. WHO is supporting Pacific island countries to implement testing for influenza-like illness/severe acute respiratory illness, and to test for diseases like measles and rubella. But the combined efforts of Pacific governments and other partners will be needed to ensure that the entire Pacific can benefit from expanded testing capacity in future.
Scroll through the photos below to see how Pacific nations continue to strengthen their laboratory health services and testing, with support from WHO and partners.
WHO gratefully acknowledges the European Union, the Governments of Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States, for their financial contribution and the Pacific Island Health Officers Association (PIHOA) and the Pacific Community (SPC) for partnering with us towards laboratory strengthening across the Pacific.
There was some laboratory capacity available in the Pacific prior to the pandemic, but this existing capacity was well and truly exceeded by the increased demand for testing for COVID-19.
WHO provided tailored assistance based on each country’s needs. In the Solomon Islands, WHO helped boost the country’s COVID-19 reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing capacity by providing PCR machines, reagents and consumables, and other critical equipment and supplies to ensure biosafety. WHO also supported training with provincial laboratory teams on new diagnostic methods.
In this photo, laboratory technicians conduct COVID-19 RT-PCR testing at the National Referral Hospital Molecular Laboratory in Honiara, Solomon Islands.