Posted: 15 March 2023
A major project tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Papua New Guinea has been extended until December 2023.
The Fleming Fund Country Grant – Papua New Guinea (PNG) is led by Burnet Institute working in close collaboration with a wide range of partners from Australia and in-country.
The Fleming Fund is a £265 million UK aid investment to tackle AMR in low- and middle-income countries where they have the greatest consequences of drug-resistant infections.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microbes – bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites – develop resistance to medicines over time, making the medicines no longer effective and potentially resulting in some infectious diseases becoming untreatable.
Experts estimate that by 2050 up to 90 per cent of all deaths related to antimicrobial resistance will occur in Africa and Asia, and globally we could see up to 10 million deaths a year.
The aim of the Fleming Fund PNG Country Grant is to strengthen national laboratories and surveillance system so they can begin to collect data on antimicrobial resistance to better understand how it’s spreading and where it poses the greatest risk, said Program Director Professor Robert Power AM.
“Our focus is on establishing data collection and surveillance across selected sites throughout PNG and supporting and training laboratory staff in the use of state-of-the-art equipment and systems,” Professor Power said.
Over the last two years, the project has faced significant challenges including the impact of COVID-19, an outbreak of African swine fever, resultant economic disruption, along with supply chain issues impacting the delivery of essential materials and equipment.
“These events have severely stalled our progress and we have been granted an extension to the end of 2023 to achieve our objectives,” Professor Power said.
“Burnet is renowned for its commitment to its partners. Our funders have kept faith with us, acknowledging our long track record in PNG and trusting that we’ll be able to work collaboratively to bring this to fruition.
“And we have excellent and highly professional partners in PNG across both the animal and the human health sectors.”
The Fleming Fund Country Grant has created a platform for a multidisciplinary approach to address antimicrobial resistance, said Fleming Fund Country Grant Coordinator Kaba Ula.
“Animal health officers are working with human health partners. Clinicians are utilising lab diagnostics more effectively to treat patients. Private sector pharmacies are working with the National Department of Health to track antimicrobial consumption,” Ms Ula said.
“Having that platform to share information and progress the fight against antimicrobial resistance in itself, is important to PNG’s fight against AMR.”
Laboratory refurbishment plans in Port Moresby are now well under way, and laboratory quality management systems and information systems are in place across several project sites.
Three technical leads – in microbiology, animal health and surveillance– are firmly established in-country, complementing and leading existing staff. These team leaders are being well supported by an experienced group of technical advisors.
National Department of Health’s AMR Secretariat Team Leader Graham Wavimbukie said, importantly, there’s also been greater collaboration and engagement within the PNG government.
“With the support of the Fleming Fund, my country has finally been able to conduct regular technical working group meetings between key government agencies,” Mr Wavimbukie said.
“These meetings are an essential aspect of leading the country’s coordinated fight against antimicrobial resistance, bringing together stakeholders that have been previously working independently.
“It means that practitioners working on human health are able to work hand-in-hand with the animal health sector on activities such as surveillance and biosafety.”
This is one of the key elements of the project, Professor Power said. That it’s taking a one health approach – looking at human and animal health and how they’re interconnected.
“When COVID came along, there was a focus on human rather than animal health,” he said.
“We’ve spent quite some time re-establishing our commitment to the animal health sector as well in Papua New Guinea to have a true one health perspective.”
The animal health sector will benefit greatly from the grant extension as the project continues to support staff capacity building and the strengthening of laboratory infrastructure, said Technical Officer Paula Pupune.
“This includes much-needed support for the National Animal Health and Food Testing Laboratory, especially for the AMR and antimicrobial susceptibility testing, residual testing and microbiology component of the laboratory,” Ms Pupune said.
“The Fleming Fund Country Grant was a blessing. It has provided the support for capacity building, enhancing, and strengthening of the laboratory facilities, as well as assisting in developing a surveillance system and mechanism for collecting AMR data.”
Currently, there is no AMR surveillance data being collected in PNG from the animal health sector, Ms Pupune said.
Reflecting a deepening understanding of the challenges of AMR and antimicrobial use in PNG, and the growing focus on strengthening the quality of AMR surveillance and control, Burnet’s program will focus on the general impact of AMR on human and animal health.
“The Fleming Fund grant extension will help make this possible and make a valuable contribution towards the PNG government’s National action plan on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) 2019-2023,” Professor Power said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)’s Fleming Fund is a UK aid program supporting up to 25 countries across Africa and Asia to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR), a leading contributor to deaths from infectious diseases worldwide.
The Fleming Fund invests in strengthening AMR surveillance systems through a portfolio of country grants, regional grants and fellowships managed by Mott MacDonald, and global projects managed by DHSC.