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New training for Pacific public health laboratory staff will help region now and in the future
The Pacific COVID experience has shown that laboratory services to help identify health security risks and provide timely, accurate and reliable diagnosis of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, needs to be strengthened.
In support of this effort, the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Public Health Division, with the assistance of the European Union (EU), held virtual training of trainers in September 2021 providing 18 Pacific Island participants an opportunity to renew their trainer’s qualifications and obtain certification in shipping infectious substances.
Health laboratory personnel are generally responsible for packing and shipping biological materials including cultured organisms using commercial airlines, making training on International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations critical. IATA is the trade association of the world’s airlines supporting aviation with global standard for airline safety and security including safety from biological hazards.
Ravendra Prasad, Laboratory Superintendent in Fiji emphasised the importance of having trainers up to date with IATA shipping regulations. “Renewal of Training of Trainers (TOT) certification for shipping of Infectious substances is important to me so that I am up to par with the latest changes in the shipping regulations and at a personal level to be a certified trainer. I will be able to train my own laboratory personnel on IATA dangerous good shipping regulations and procedures for infectious substances both in-country and across borders. This will mean that I will be able to train a lot of my own laboratory staff at different intervals within this two-year period before expiry of my certificate.”
Theresa Tatuava, senior laboratory scientist in Cook Islands highlighted the benefit of having more certified shippers in the lab. “We will now have more lab staff responsible to assist with shipping of infectious substances ensuring that referral samples are dispatched more quickly and in line with IATA regulations.”
The National Laboratory Department in Vanuatu convened its first ever locally facilitated training on shipping of infectious substances in October 2021. This was facilitated by certified trainer and senior laboratory officer George Pakoa. The training was attended by 10 participants from the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, Animal Health and Biosecurity departments with funding support from Agence Française de Dévelopement (AFD) through SPC.
Pakoa stated, “This training will assist the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and is an opportunity to have our shippers certified by a certified local trainer. This will enable certified shippers to send blood samples or any samples of human or animals’ origin to any reference laboratories overseas for further confirmation.”
The IATA training of trainers is earmarked for PICTs laboratory managers and senior personnel, to train and certify laboratory shippers on the latest update of IATA shipping regulation and procedures.
Dr Berlin Kafoa, Director for SPC’s Public Health Division says, “We have seen first-hand how important it is to have properly trained and certified health professionals during a health emergency. We can not predict when the next health crisis will occur, but by investing in this type of training, we can help ensure that the Pacific has the required skills and staff when it needs them.”