THE Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) aims to improve the skills of laboratory technicians to help them identify and report gonorrhoea strains and their susceptibility to anti-microbial agents.
Tebuka Toatu, laboratory specialist in the HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) section of SPC's Public Health division, said two workshops would be held for laboratory technicians later this year.
The workshops, one for the northern and one for the southern Pacific, are supported by the Pacific HIV and STI Response Fund, an AusAID and NZAID-funded initiative, managed by SPC. They come at a time when the World Health Organisation reported that gonorrhoea was becoming a major public health challenge, with the disease having developed resistance to virtually every class of antibiotic available at present.
"Resistant strains of gonorrhoea can occur if medication is given inappropriately," said Mr Toatu.
"A lot of drugs are used to treat gonorrhoea but some may not kill the bacteria and this can lead to resistance.
"Also, patients sometimes do not finish the course of antibiotic treatment, and this too can lead to strains becoming resistant."
Mr Toatu said as a part of being proactive throughout the Pacific region in meeting the challenge, laboratories need to be able to detect whether or not antibiotics are working.
The workshops will help ensure that accurate and reliable testing processes are either implemented or strengthened, and that there is adherence to microbiology quality controls and standards.
"The workshops will address the all-important aspects of laboratory quality management systems, including testing processes and the documentation of those processes, the number of qualified staff and their capacity.
"The aim is to assist SPC members with capacity-building and the implementation of laboratory management systems where required," said Mr Toatu.
Mr Toatu attributes part of the problem of rising drug-resistant gonorrhoea rates to the use of only one testing methodology — polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — where urine is used to detect DNA particles that are specific to the bacteria that cause gonorrhoea. "Although this testing methodology is very sensitive and specific, it lacks the capacity to determine antimicrobial susceptibility patterns."
Gonorrhoea is one of the most common STIs in the world.