NOUMEA: Behind the scenes of the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, health practitioners ran an innovative surveillance system to better protect the health of Honiara’s population, including artists and visitors, from infectious diseases and other potential public health hazards related to a large gathering of people.
The electronic system was designed to ensure rapid detection and prompt response to unusual public health events, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases, through the collection of syndromes (signs or symptoms indicating potential infectious diseases).
Between 25 June and 21 July, almost 14,000 people attended the health facilities that participated and more than 1,570 patients with syndromes under surveillance were recorded by the system. No outbreak or major event of public health significance occurred during or after the Festival in Solomon Islands or in the region.
With more than 15 clinics or health facilities in Honiara taking part in the data collection, good geographic coverage of the capital was ensured.
Rapid analysis of the data collected was made possible by the web-based configuration of the surveillance system, which was designed by experts from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). The system allowed multiple health experts from different locations around the Pacific to monitor the situation on a daily basis.
To be effective, analysis must be followed up by decisions on the ground. A few alerts were issued during the Festival with field interventions promptly and efficiently carried out by the Festival’s National Health Sub-Committee Response Team.
For example, laboratory investigation of several cases of diarrhoeal syndrome identified the bacteria Shigella spp., which could be the cause of a recurring public health problem in Honiara. Findings seem to indicate a link between the cases of diarrhoea notified during the Festival and an outbreak of diarrhoea that occurred in Honiara and Western Province at the end of 2011.
Proper treatment was provided to the patients as soon as the bacteria were identified, while field investigations of notified cases were carried out by the government. These investigations included epidemiological and environmental health assessments combined with health promotion activities in the communities concerned.
The Festival offered a great practical opportunity to strengthen public health surveillance and response in Solomon Islands as never before.
All categories of health practitioners (nurses, doctors, public health workers and laboratory technicians) took part in the system and could see the benefits of cross-disciplinary operation. Daily feedback reports were provided to all those who contributed to this collaborative exercise.
Solomon Islands were the first Pacific Island nation to implement this new web-based syndromic surveillance system, designed for public health surveillance of population gatherings by SPC experts from the Public Health Division and the Statistics for Development Programme. It has been a great success.
The system is equally designed to suit other large events in the Pacific Islands and may be used during the next Pacific Mini Games to take place in Wallis and Futuna in September 2013.
The success of this large-scale initiative can be mainly attributed to the engagement and collaboration of the Festival Organising Committee, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) of Solomon Islands, the Honiara City Council, SPC and the World Health Organization (WHO). SPC also enjoyed the assistance of the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS) and the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), which provided the Public Health Division with daily updates on potential global health threats that might concern the Pacific during the Festival. – SPC