News

Focus on STIs in Timor-Leste

Angus Morgan

10 November, 2015

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Timor Leste National Health Laboratory researcher Ana Bella Luisa Freitas Guterres

Burnet Institute research has established a new diagnostic service for sexually transmitted infections (STI) in Timor Leste using world-class approaches that amplify the DNA of these bacterial infections.

Dr Jack Richards and Dr Alexandra Rodriguez have recently trained local staff at the National Health Laboratory in the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, which enables the rapid and highly specific diagnosis of these infections.

This was technically possible because of support from Ms Franca Azzato at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory.

Dr Rodriguez said the new service, generously funded by the Rotary Club of Preston, requires a urine sample rather than a vaginal swab, which is a big step up from what was previously available in Timor Leste.

“Up to now, if someone presented with a suspected STI, they would be treated empirically for a range of STIs because there were no diagnostic tests available,” Dr Rodriguez said.

“Treating for everything because you’re unsure is not efficient or effective.

“A major advantage of this diagnostic approach is that it can test for chlamydia and gonorrhoea at the same time.”

IMAGE L-R: Researchers Luis Adriano, Dr Alexandra Rodriguez, Ana Bella Luisa Freitas Guterres and Ismael Barreto

It is important to have access to specific diagnostic tests for STIs.

“Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are asymptomatic for 75 percent of people, so many people don’t even know they have it,” Dr Rodriguez said.

“These people are infectious to others but can also suffer from long-term complications of ongoing chronic infections.

“The first sample that we were able to test allowed us to diagnose a baby with gonorrhoeal eye infection which had been caught from the mother during the birth of the baby.

“We were able to diagnose the infection within two hours and treat both mother and baby immediately.

“The staff here are so appreciative because they understand what a difference services like this can make.”

The next step is to promote the test and to build connections with the local hospital and clinics so that the test is utilised to diagnose symptomatic individuals, but also to screen asymptomatic people at high risk of STIs.

IMAGE: The National Health Laboratory in Dili

“Having the test available is one thing, but the doctors in the various clinics need to make best use of it, and I am confident that will happen,” she said.

“All the clinics that I visited were really excited that this testing would be available and all the doctors at the hospital as well.

“I think the fact that all we need is a urine sample really helps as well.”

Dr Richards said there’s strong support for Burnet’s programs in Timor Leste, which include the maintenance of a GeneXpert machine to improve the diagnosis and management of tuberculosis.

“Timor Leste is such a close neighbour, being located only 45 minutes flight fro Darwin. We have a responsibility to assist in the development of health services in Timor-Leste.

“It is important that there is a strong emphasis on high quality diagnostics for disease so that public health systems are informed.

“Having strong diagnostic services helps strengthen disease surveillance.

“This then leads to swift and appropriate disease response and targeted preventive strategies,” he said.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Associate Professor Jack Richards

Group Head, NHMRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Infectious Diseases Physician

Telephone

+61385062405

Email

jack.richards@burnet.edu.au

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