Increasing influenza surveillance in the Pacific Island

An influenza surveillance programme modelled on one already operating in New Caledonia will soon be extended to six other Pacific Island countries. They are the Cook Islands, Fiji Islands, Guam, Palau, Tonga, and Wallis and Futuna. The extension of the programme should begin early in 2006 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved a proposal from The Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN) to increase influenza surveillance in the Pacific Island region.

Laboratory skills and facilities for testing for influenza will be established in the six countries and the Pasteur Institute in New Caledonia will strengthen its capacity for confirmatory testing. The institute plays a pivotal role in the network, acting as a confirmatory laboratory for other Pacific countries. This new project will help PICTs better assess the influenza burden, monitor influenza activity and develop potential prevention and control strategies. It will also contribute to the global surveillance of influenza.

At present, only two countries in the PPHSN, French Polynesia and New Caledonia, are able to carry out year-round laboratory-based influenza surveillance. Most rely on syndromic reporting of influenza (reporting of clinical cases by health workers) and do not carry out regular testing. Some laboratories have used rapid tests to investigate influenza outbreaks, but the high cost of these tests and lack of funding have prevented their continued use.

The project team are members of the PPHSN Influenza Specialist Group — Dr Ian Barr from the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, Dr Alain Berlioz-Arthaud from the Pasteur Institute, New Caledonia, and Dr Tom Kiedrzynski and Dr Narendra Singh from SPC.

SPC, as the focal point for the PPHSN Coordinating Body, will administer the project which will be implemented in partnership with the Pasteur Institute, WHO, and other laboratory and training institutions in the region, such as the Pacific Paramedical Training Centre (PPTC) in New Zealand.

At present, the project is for one year only, but there is a possibility that it will be renewed and extended to more Pacific countries. Progress reports on the new project will be published in future issues of Inform’ACTION.

Strengthened national influenza preparedness (SNIP)
Project funded by New Zealand

This project proposal was developed last June during the Second Pacific Health Summit for Disaster Risk Management, organised by the CDC PEHI project (a summary of this project was published in issue 21 of Inform’ACTION). Since then, New Zealand has endorsed the proposal and the project should start in early 2006.

PPHSN Coordinating Body Focal Point

Many thanks to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Zealand and Australia for their support for PPHSN activities.