NOUMEA, New Caledonia—Public health Laboratories in the Pacific Islands are very diverse in their structure and resources—ranging in size from one employee to up to a hundred—but they all aim to provide equitable and high-quality services to the people of the Pacific.
A public health laboratory network called LabNet was established in Noumea in 2000 by the World Health Organization and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to strengthen partnership and communication between regional labs to better support the Pacific Islands.
“The role of laboratories is crucial when there is an outbreak of infectious diseases like dengue fever for example,” said Dr Colin Tukuitonga, director of the Public Health Division at SPC. “Timely, accurate and reliable lab results are essential to guide the necessary interventions to reduce the impact of outbreaks on the population.”
Around 60 representatives of LabNet member countries and organizations met at SPC Headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia, last week to review the strengths and weaknesses of the network.
“There has been considerable progress in the development of national laboratory services in recent years, but challenges remain,” said Dr Karen Nahapetyan, technical officer, Essential Medical Technologies at WHO.
“Five years ago, we didn’t perform any influenza testing at home. Now we do screening tests and send samples for confirmation at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research in New Zealand,” said Douglas Tatuava Ngaeikura-Tou, laboratory manager in Cook Islands.
The meeting also looked at ways to improve Pacific Islands’ laboratory quality management systems.
“It is important to ensure steady and continuous improvement that will allow Pacific Island countries’ laboratories to offer world class service to their citizens,” added Nahapetyan.
LabNet also allows Pacific Island countries and territories to access diagnostic services and training throughout the region that they cannot afford in-country.
LabNet is a service of the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network that provides laboratory diagnostic methods, tools and technical support to the 22 Pacific Island country and territory members of PPHSN.
SPC serves as the focal point of the PPHSN Coordinating Body and facilitates the secretariat of LabNet.
The current LabNet meeting includes representatives from 20 Pacific Island countries and territories and several regional and international organizations and reference laboratories. It started Sept. 17 and closed on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. (Secretariat of the Pacific Community)