UK Secretary of State visits PNG’s Fleming Fund antimicrobial resistance data surveillance project

The Fleming Fund Country Grant in Papua New Guinea (PNG), led by Burnet Institute in Australia was the focus of a recent visit to Port Moresby by the UK Foreign Secretary, Rt. Hon. James Cleverly.

Cleverly’s visit was the first by a sitting UK Cabinet Minister to PNG. This included an inspection of specialised equipment in the Pathology Microbiology unit at the Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) – procured to develop and enhance the unit through the Fleming Fund – a £265 million UK Aid programme helping to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Africa and Asia.

Rt. Hon. James Cleverly speaking on the UK-Papua New Guinea partnership on AMR surveillance in Papua New Guinea at Port Moresby General Hospital. Credit: Port Moresby General Hospital.

The Fleming Fund Country Grant in Papua New Guinea, run by the Burnet Institute and managed by Mott MacDonald, works in collaboration with partners from Australia and in-country to renovate national laboratories and strengthen the AMR data surveillance system. This helps us to better understand how AMR is spreading, and where it poses the greatest risk to inform effective policymaking.

AMR has been declared as a top ten global public health threat by the World Health Organization, responsible for the deaths of 1.27 million people globally. Untreatable infections caused by AMR are rising every day and may reach a point where antimicrobials no longer work.

The Foreign Secretary was accompanied by the British High Commissioner His Excellency Mr Keith Scott to tour the PMGH Microbiology Unit and the Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL) facility, led by Fleming Fund PNG human health fellows from the Doherty Institute in Australia.

Rt. Hon. James Cleverly, Foreign Secretary to the UK government, visiting Port Moresby General Hospital's Microbiology Unit - renovated by the Fleming Fund. Credit: Port Moresby General Hospital.

Clinical Microbiology fellow Dr Ak highlighted the hospital’s AMR data surveillance platforms used to significantly reduce the turnaround time for Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (AST), improving patient care and clinical antibiotic misuse. The Foreign Secretary had the opportunity to perform the AMR ‘streaking’ process, testing urine specimens for AST by cultivating bacteria to inspect the isolated pathogen.

Cleverly said the equipment procured for the Microbiology Unit of PMGH’s Pathology Department would support PNG “in the here and now, and into the future”.

“The ability to analyse microorganisms effectively and quickly is incredibly important … and I’m very pleased that it’s being facilitated with the help of the Fleming Fund, funded by the British people to support our friends here in Papua New Guinea.”

Rt. Hon. James Cleverly

Rt. Hon. James Cleverly carrying out the 'streaking' process at Port Moresby General Hospital with the Burnet and Doherty team. Credit: Burnet Institute.

PMGH Director of Medical Services, Dr Kone Sobi said Fleming Fund support for the training of staff at the Microbiology Unit and Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL) had been invaluable.

“Through the Fleming Fund Country Grant, we are able to improve and enhance the capacity of the Microbiology activity in Port Moresby General Hospital, and this goes a long way to serve and improve clinical practice in the country.”

Dr. Sobi

PMGH Director of Medical Services, Dr. Kone Sobi welcomes UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Rt. Hon. James Cleverly and the British High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr. Keith Scott as they arrive at the hospital. Credit: Port Moresby General Hospital.

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A plaque on the side of the Saint Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, UK, commemorates the discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic, in 1928. Fungal spores, blown by the wind, landed on Sir Alexander Fleming's Petri dishes killing the bacteria he was growing leading to a revolution in medicine.

Since 2019, Fleming Fund grantee, International Vaccine Institute (IVI), has led the CAPTURA consortium to expand the volume of historical data for antimicrobial resistance (AMR), consumption (AMC), and use (AMU) across 12 countries in South and Southeast Asia.