Survey of defence force shows scope of PNG malaria problem

A survey of Papua New Guinea Defence force members in the northern city of Lae has revealed more than 10% tested positive for malaria, though few showed signs of infection.

The Australian Defence Force Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute (ADFMIDI) and Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) scientific officers conducted the survey over four weeks from mid-April.

The data obtained will assist in the identification, diagnosis and treatment of malaria, lymphatic filariasis, tuberculosis and other disease risks in PNG and the wider region.

As previously reported in Cosmos, some people with malaria end up with a ‘hidden’ infection, either after having malaria symptoms or being completely asymptomatic.

The ADFMIDI says analysis and interpretation of the data has not yet been completed.

The survey included 186 PNGDF members and 678 family members living at Igam Barracks in Lae, on the north coast of PNG.

Blood testing 1
Scientific officers from ADFMIDI and PNGDF take a blood donation at Igam Barrracks Lae PNG. L–R: Captain Goina PNGDF, Captain Joanne Kizu ADFMIDI, PNGDF Igam Barracks Area Commanding

No PNGDF members had lymphatic filariasis or tuberculosis. Only 21 tested positive for malaria and few showed clinical symptoms.

Of the 678 family members tested, 18 were positive for malaria, with about two thirds of the analysis completed. No lymphatic filariasis was detected.

“Antimalarial medications were provided to the PNGDF’s Igam Barracks medical centre by ADFMIDI, so health survey participants found to be infected with malaria can receive ongoing treatment by medical centre staff,” says ADF Scientific Officer, Major Geoff Birrell.

The health survey comprised health and lifestyle questionnaires, physiological measurements, blood and sputum sampling to determine the prevalence and exposure to vector borne and lifestyle diseases, as well as tuberculosis.

Adfmidi image 1
PNGDF and ADFMIDI scientific officers conduct adult mosquito surveillance in Papua New Guinea using an encephalitis virus surveillance trap.

Family members were given a short questionnaire followed by a simple finger prick sample to determine the prevalence of malaria and lymphatic filariasis.

Researchers also collected more than 4,000 mosquitoes to identify human disease vectors at Igam Barracks and two local pig and poultry farms.

Of those, 93% were important vectors of human disease. The most common were Culex quinquefasciatus – which can transmit arboviruses including Ross River virus and Japanese encephalitis – and Aedes albopictus, which can transmit Dengue fever.

ADFMIDI also helped to refurbish the medical centre’s laboratory and train staff to diagnose malaria on-site, facilitating immediate treatment, Birrell said.

Commanding Officer ADFMIDI, Lieutenant Colonel Brady McPherson said the PNGDF scientific partnership is contributing insights into developing disease prevention programs, and improves the ADF’s understanding of diseases in the region.

“The data obtained will help the ADF and PNGDF develop the best possible protection against malaria and other infectious diseases and reminds us of the continued threat of infectious diseases to local communities and deployed personnel,” McPherson said.

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