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QIMR to train PNG laboratory workers

Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) are sharing their expertise to address the rising rates of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Nine laboratory workers from PNG have been sponsored by QIMR and the International Society for Advancement of Cytology to attend a four day training course at QIMR in Brisbane to learn how to use essential equipment to monitor patients’ HIV status.

QIMR scientist, Grace Chojnowski who has organised this course is very enthusiastic about this program. “HIV/AIDS is a growing problem in PNG. Health workers often have equipment but because they lack training and experience, are not able to perform the necessary tests accurately and effectively.”

“We have some of the best imaging facilities in Australia and I am very passionate about sharing our expertise with our neighbours in the hope of better outcomes for the patients in PNG.”

The number of AIDS sufferers in PNG has tragically risen from 10,000 in 2001 to 54,000 in 2007. To detect the onset of AIDS, laboratory workers use flow cytometry to count the number of white blood cells, called CD4 cells in samples from HIV patients. Once the levels of these CD4 cells fall below a specified target, the patient who is infected with the AIDS virus needs to start antiviral treatment.

“The aim of the program is to train health workers in PNG to perform these procedures accurately,” said Grace. “If treatment can be started in a timely fashion this greatly improves the outcome and survival of the HIV infected patients.”

“The health workers in PNG often work in poor conditions. Keeping the flow cytometry instruments running in remote areas of PNG can be a real challenge. We aim to share the skills of QIMR scientists to give the PNG workers the knowledge and tools to maintain and use the equipment more effectively. They will also been shown good laboratory practice, appropriate blood collection methods and how to maintain good quality control programs for blood samples.”

“We hope the skills they learn will enable them to maintain the equipment and reduce down time. This will enable them to diagnose and monitor the disease more quickly and therefore better treat HIV/AIDS patients.”

The flow cytometry course and workshop will be run from 28 to 31 October at QIMR in Brisbane. Along with the PNG delegates there will be 80 other participants attending the course from all states in Australia, as well as other countries including Malaysia, Uganda, and Saudi Arabia.