Emerging Diseases Surveillance and Response Unit
HEALTH IN EMERGENCIES / HEALTH AND NUTRITION CLUSTER
The Emerging Diseases Surveillance and Response Unit is also responsible for coordination of the Papua New Guinea combined Health and Nutrition Cluster. This network serves to bring together government agencies, UN agencies in PNG, and other development partners working in the areas of health and nutrition in disasters, for the purposes of improving communication, coordination, and outcomes for affected populations.
Papua New Guinea is host to a variety of outbreak-prone diseases, some exotic (such as the first recognized outbreak of chikungunya in PNG in 2012) and some commonplace (such as influenza). Some of the outbreaks with which the WHO country office has assisted PNG health authorities in recent years include:
- Unexplained bleeding deaths
- Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis
WHO and the NDOH surveillance unit also work closely with the National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA)
In line with new global best practices in public health response, PNG is moving toward an all-hazards approach to public health emergencies. The Emerging Diseases Surveillance and Response Unit has recently assisted the National Department of Health to draft an all-hazards PNG Public Health Emergencies Plan, which will serve as a single template for the PNG response to any public health emergencies, be they infectious, chemical, radionuclear or otherwise.
Field Epidemiology Training Program
In April 2013, the first class of Papua New Guinea’s own six-month combined onsite- and distance-training programme, the PNG Field Epidemiology Training (FET) Programme, began at March Girls Resort in Central Province. This course aims to provide suitable candidates with advanced skills in disease surveillance analysis and outbreak response. The inaugural cohort included 19 trainees, from 12 Provinces and Port Moresby. The second phase of this training programme reunited trainees to present the results of projects they have undertaken over the first three months, such as outbreak investigations and evaluations of surveillance systems in their provinces. For the final three months, trainees implement recommendations for improving the systems which they studied.
This course is the first of its kind in PNG. Many past short term field epidemiology training programs in the Asia Pacific region and elsewhere have failed to provide significant public health impact, due to overly academic curricular focus, lack of an opportunity to put acquired skills into practice, absence of follow up, or other reasons. This course aims to avoid some of those failures by including in its design an analytic project for each trainee, work with a technical mentor, presentation of project results and recommended interventions, and evaluation of intervention effectiveness (the latter being a world’s-first for FET programmes). Each component of this program reinforces the prior activity and enhances participant accountability. The most successful graduates from each cohort will be provided with additional training in order for them to serve as future FETP mentors and epidemiology leaders in PNG.
The course faculty consists of staff from the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FETP – Thailand, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and NDOH.
Funding for the initial cohort has been provided by WHO and CDC. To insure sustainability, the NDOH has pledged to incorporate future FETP programmes into its regular budget.
Mobile Phone-based Surveillance System (MPS)
The Papua New Guinea health system is fragile and existing surveillance systems are frequently incapable of detecting outbreaks in a timely manner. To strengthen outbreak identification, WHO and the National Department of Health piloted a mobile phone based syndromic surveillance system during a nation-wide cholera outbreak. Following the successful completion of this pilot, the MPS is now being rolled out nationwide. Sites will be established in at least one site per province, in order to provide a comprehensive real-time sentinel network to monitor eight urgently notifiable conditions (including nonspecific public health events that may pose a threat to public health, such as clusters of unexplained severe disease).
International Health Regulations / Asia-Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases
The Emerging Diseases Surveillance and Response Unit is the secretariat for supporting the government of Papua New Guinea to fulfil its obligations under the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). The Unit has supported the National Department of Health to draft and implement its Emerging Disease and Health Emergencies Workplan, in line with the Asia-Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases (APSED 2010), the regional roadmap to meeting IHR obligations.
Infection Prevention and Control
The Emerging Diseases Surveillance and Response Unit co-chairs the National Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Committee alongside the National Department of Health. The Committee’s goal is to strengthen IPC practices throughout the health sector in PNG. Recent activity includes the development of a National IPC Policy. Work is now underway to revise the PNG National IPC Guidelines.