PNG Institute of Medical Research to conduct Covid-19 genome sequencing tests


The Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (IMR) is being prepared to conduct genomic sequencing of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) test beginning next month, National Pandemic Response Deputy Controller Dr Daoni Esorom says.

“We need to speed up tests and results for a better response to the pandemic. Speed matters for us to be able to know the actual status and for use to respond swiftly and effectively against the virus threat,” he added.

“The results of the Covid-19 test samples sent to Australia’s Doherty Institute in Melbourne more than three weeks ago for genomic sequencing to determine whether they were the Delta variant had yet to return. We are into the fourth week and it is a big concern for us.

“At the moment, the turnaround time for us is too long (and) that is unacceptable. If we have a surge in the country, we just cannot manage (with) very slow turnaround in results.

“That is not good in guiding us as to where the Delta variant is heading, how it is spreading and at what speed it is spreading.

“If we have to increase our turnaround time, we have to build our own capacity and that is what we are doing with IMR. That is our only solution for this problem now.

“We had a meeting with the extractive industry on Monday they have agreed to pay for the equipment (machines and accessories) that IMR will be using for genome sequencing.

“We are looking at next month to make sure that we get IMR up and running (their capacities, training and equipment).

“It is only through testing that we can detect cases and if we are not testing enough, we will just have many respiratory illnesses and many people will be dying without actually really knowing if they are dying from the vial virus (original Covid-19) or the Delta variant,” he added.

Esorom said the IMR capacity was needed to do the genome sequencing not only of Covid-19 strains but also other strains of Coronaviruses.

Meanwhile, the Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH), despite being the country’s national referral hospital, continues to refer patients overseas for treatment, which has to stop, chief executive officer Dr Paki Molumi says.

Speaking during the hospital’s commemoration of Papua New Guinea’s 46th Independence and farewell of 43 retiring staff on Wednesday, Dr Molumi said: “We have to look back on how far we have come as a hospital, serving this country for 46 years. Our country has been politically independent for 46 years now (but) we are striving to be economically independent.

“Health must contribute to Papua New Guinea achieving economic independence by first being health independent.

“Health independent meaning, our citizens must not travel to a foreign hospital seeking treatment, we must have specialist services here in our country.

“We must rely less on outside help to provide healthcare to our citizens, we must have the capacity to look after our own citizens’ health and we should be looking towards attracting them to come and seek healthcare here,” he said.