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International outbreak experts deployed to Papua New Guinea to support the COVID-19 response

Thérèse “TK” Kearns was busy supporting First Nations communities in Australia by analysing COVID-19 testing and case data, when she received an email in July, calling for epidemiologists to support the COVID-19 response in Papua New Guinea (PNG) through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). Eager to utilise her epidemiology, nursing and midwifery skills to assist the response, TK immediately applied. Within four weeks, she had boarded a flight to Port Moresby, the Pacific nation’s capital, to undertake a seven-week outbreak response mission supported by the Australia’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security.

After completing her mandatory quarantine period on arrival, TK hit the ground running, working alongside the National Control Center’s surveillance team to understand the epidemiological situation and assist with strengthening the COVID-19 surveillance system.

Based on the outbreak situation, GOARN experts may be requested to travel to areas across the country to provide technical assistance. TK travelled to Daru, Western Province to support surveillance system assessment and strengthening. “I met with workers from health care facilities and listened to stories about how much they have been doing with limited human resources and supplies. This really helped me to understand the situation and adjust my technical support to fit the context.”

TK visited several health clinics in Port Moresby to assess how midwives have incorporated COVID-19 screening and triage into their daily work. As a registered nurse/midwife and epidemiologist with over 15 years of experience, she advised staff on how to improve their processes and capacity to identify and treat COVID-19 cases safely.

While GOARN deployments are fast-paced, rapidly changing and intensive experiences, they also provide rewarding cultural opportunities. TK visited Port Moresby’s craft and fish markets, ate local food and even had a chance to go diving to observe PNG’s beautiful marine life. One of the highlights of her trip was working with national colleagues and wearing the meri blouse, a locally worn dress, to work.

TK has returned to her home in Brisbane, Australia and is looking forward to her next deployment. Her advice to future GOARN deployees is to “work hard, speak to as many people as you can, be willing to share your knowledge and learn as much as you can.”

As of November 2020, 10 technical experts (laboratory specialists, epidemiologists, and clinical management) have been deployed to PNG through GOARN since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

GOARN is a global technical partnership, established by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a key mechanism to engage the resources of technical agencies beyond the United Nations for rapid identification, confirmation and response to public health emergencies of international concern. The network comprises over 250 technical institutions and networks globally that respond to acute public health events through the deployment of staff and resources to affected countries. WHO in the Western Pacific Region has 63 GOARN partners, including medical and surveillance initiatives, regional technical networks, networks of laboratories, international humanitarian non-governmental organizations and national public health institutions. All have the ability to pool their resources rapidly to assist affected countries seeking assistance.

Read more about GOARN

The WHO Regional Office of the Western Pacific sincerely thanks the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security for enabling the deployment of several GOARN experts to Papua New Guinea.