November 23, 2022

In-person upskilling: Laboratory technicians from Fiji visit Melbourne for a two-week training course

As we have recently observed World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (WAAW) 2022, a global campaign that is conducted annually to improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and encourage best practice in antimicrobial prescribing, the COMBAT-AMR Project can report on recent activities with our partners from Fiji.

Following several years of mentoring sessions held over Zoom, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), Melbourne, has recently been able to host several members of the Microbiology Laboratory team from the Colonial War Memorial Hospital (CWMH), Suva.

Over the course of four weeks, four members from the CWMH microbiology department visited the facilities of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory (MDU PHL) at the Doherty Institute to receive a two-week in-person training and mentorship program. This program was designed to not only build additional technical expertise for implementation in their day-to-day work in Fiji, but to further enhance the relationships between the project team and CWMH staff.

The intended training outcomes of the visits have been centred around enhancing CWMH’s AMR diagnostic capabilities. The collaborative meeting has been designed to allow for the transfer and application of knowledge gained to their own setting, whilst also exposing the visitors to the routine practices of microbiology laboratories in Australia. It is also planned to assist in extending their knowledge and skills regarding data cleaning and analysis, with the end goal of producing a local hospital antibiogram.

The team is looking forward to taking their learnings and implementing them when back in CWMH, though also reflect that the visit is about more than just taking on new techniques or using the latest equipment. A key aspect that has been highlighted on this trip has been the importance of guidelines in practice. This requires further continuation of work that was commenced with previous visits to Fiji by MDU PHL staff in 2018.

“This experience has been an opportunity for some our team members to understand not just what the process is to follow, but why we do so and how that contributes to responding to AMR,” says Vinita Prasad, Head of Section, Microbiology, Pathology Laboratory at CWMH.

Prinika Prasad, Vinita Prasad and Komal Maharaj on-site in Melbourne
“We have seen a change in the patterns over time, with certain infections moving from susceptible to resistant, not just in the hospital but the community in general. We are always looking to upskill ourselves and work in partnership with peripheral hospitals to collect samples for wider testing. Being able to implement enhanced testing methods allows the laboratory team to alert clinicians in real-time, and slow down the issue before it escalates.”

An expression used by Amitesh Prasad, a Technical Officer with over 10 years of experience in the field of microbiology, to describe the relationship between the COMBAT-AMR Project and the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services is ‘Vuvale’, a word in the Fijian language for ‘family’ that can also mean ‘my home is your home’.

Amitesh Prasad in the laboratory
“With the emerging worldwide trend of AMR, it is important to consider capacity-building as more than just the knowledge gained, including factors such as supply chain consistency in the long-term,” notes Amitesh.
“The goals of the COMBAT-AMR Project align with the Ministry of Health [with] training our staff and learning how to better use what we already have in a country-focused manner.”

The team is now back in Suva and already beginning to implement the learnings from the trip, and we look forward to extended collaboration into the future.

For more information about WAAW, please visit the WHO website. The theme for 2022 was “Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance Together”.