Diabetes testing program ‘an answer to prayer’

L-R: Sheila Pati Harou, Lynna Albert, Helena Stoesel and Doctor Cathy Timothy

A Flinders University program driven by former international students is an “answer to prayer”, according to a doctor on the front line of the battle against diabetes in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Cathy Timothy, from ANGAU Hospital Diabetic Treatment Centre, visited Flinders University this week as part of a delegation from Morobe Province, which included senior officials from the provincial government, PNG’s National Department of Health and PNG University of Technology.

The delegation signed a renewed memorandum of understanding with the Flinders University International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing for Morobe Province to expand its participation in the centre’s ACE (Analytical and Clinical Excellence) Program for diabetes management.

The ACE Program provides training and competency certification within a quality framework for health professional staff using the Siemens DCA Vantage point-of-care analyser – and is already saving lives in Morobe Province, according to Dr Timothy.

“As far as diabetes goes, this is a prayer answered,” Dr Timothy said. “Until now, we have never been able to properly manage diabetes patients. Now we are able to prevent the progression of the disease, and in many cases save lives.”

Lynna Albert, a nursing officer in Morobe province, and a former student at Flinders, described how the program had grown from a dream shared by her and Professor Mark Shephard at Flinders University, into a life-changing reality for hundreds of Papua New Guineans.

“I was a student at Flinders in 2010 when the program was introduced, and was the first one from PNG to be trained,” Ms Albert said. “I knew it would be really good for the country and asked if I could help to roll it out. I was really grateful to Professor Shephard and Siemens when we received machines and two years’ worth of testing kits to get us started.”

Sheila Pati Harou, Deputy Administrator-Social Services, Morobe Provincial Administration, studied at Flinders University at the same time as Ms Albert, and has also been instrumental in driving the program forward.

“The program has so much potential, not just for Morobe Province, but also for the rest of the country,” said Ms Harou. “We have been running it at two sites, and after signing the renewed MOU we will be extending it to ANGUA Hospital and The University of Technology.

“We wanted to come to Flinders University and sign the MOU in person because diabetes is a growing problem in our province and it is important for us, as the provincial government, to show that we are doing something about it.

“We are committed to the program for the next five years, which is the term of the current government, and have allocated funds to roll it out.”

Vicky Warimbelie, Program Manager, Non Communicable Disease, at PNG’s National Department of Health, said visiting the centre was a great opportunity for her to assess the program and see how the national government might increase its involvement.

“During my visit I have been making some evaluations, which I will be passing on to the government and which may mean we can take our participation in the program to the next level,” Ms Warimbelie said.

“Diabetes has been increasing in Papua New Guinea to a rate of 7 per cent and I believe the results of the ACE Program are very encouraging.”

Macquin K Maino, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Administration, at PNG University of Technology, said many of his colleagues and students would be able to be tested for the first time.

“We have a medical facility on campus which serves staff, students and the surrounding community,” Mr Maino said. “Before the ACE Program, many of our international staff would travel out of the country if they had health issues, but now we can test them at the university.

“We are very supportive of the program, and when we return to Morobe Province we will be working to convince the other universities in PNG to take part.”

Professor Mark Shephard, Director of the Flinders University International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing, and Lara Motta, the centre’s International POCT Programs Coordinator, said they were excited at signing the MOU, and praised Ms Albert’s contribution to the ACE Program in PNG.

“When Lynna and I became friends, we didn’t know if we could make the program work in her home community, but it has grown and its value is now recognised by the Provincial Government,” Professor Shephard said.

“Being able to provide resources and support for health professionals to manage diabetes in rural communities is hopefully just the first step in a very fruitful partnership that will eventually use point-of-care testing to manage a wide range of conditions,” Ms Motta said.

More information about the ACE Program, which has been rolled out in 18 communities in seven countries in the past year, is available on the Flinders University International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing website.

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