Image: Dr Leanne Robinson at the Malaria World Congress in Melbourne
Burnet Institute senior researcher Dr Leanne Robinson has been appointed to lead an Australian Government-funded research project to support real-time surveillance of vector borne illnesses, including malaria, in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Announced by Foreign Minister, The Hon Julie Bishop at the Malaria World Congress in Melbourne, the project is part of the Stronger Systems for Health Security Program to help Southeast Asian and Pacific nations respond to infectious disease threats by strengthening health systems, surveillance and response mechanisms.
Dr Robinson said the project would build on an existing malaria monitoring program in PNG by adding additional sites and expanding testing to include other vector borne diseases including arboviruses such as Zika and chikungunya.
There will be a focus also on drug-resistant malaria, which is emerging in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia.
“In recent years the threat of drug resistant malaria has become very real and present in our region,” Dr Robinson, Burnet Group Leader of Vector Borne Diseases and Tropical Public Health, said.
“Fortunately, in Papua New Guinea we are yet to detect drug-resistant malaria parasites, but this doesn’t negate the need for even stronger systems of surveillance to ensure that we are able to identify their emergence as quickly as possible.”
Image: Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announces the funding for Dr Robinson’s project at the Malaria World Congress
The project aims to strengthen vector borne disease surveillance and response by enabling the rapid identification and containment of outbreaks, resurgence and resistance using molecular monitoring to detect resistant pathogens.
It will also strengthen options for key health systems to respond to febrile illness and avert antimicrobial resistance to provide better support to front line health workers in surveillance and adherence.
“I’m very excited to be leading this proposal together with my close colleague Dr Moses Laman from the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research,” Dr Robinson said.
“It will allow us, together with our partners at CPHL and NDoH to build upon some important work that has been very malaria focused and extend this into other vector borne pathogens as well as disease surveillance and response more generally.”
Foreign Minister Bishop announced five projects in total would benefit from $16 million in funding to support research and capacity building activities to help countries in the Asia-Pacific region to address key health security challenges.
“These contributions will be drawn from Australia’s $300 million Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative over five years, which I announced in October 2017 to combat the challenges of existing and emerging infectious diseases for Australia and our region,” she said.