Over the last few months, our team in Timor-Leste have been working closely with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the WHO Timor-Leste and Maluk Timor on the country's COVID-19 response including testing, health system strengthening and physical distancing and hygiene measures.

The work builds on our growing program of work helping the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture to improve surveillance and response to some of the biggest infectious diseases challenges the country is facing since opening an office in Dili in 2019.

Our support focused on surveillance system and response strengthening; antimicrobial resistance (AMR); rheumatic heart disease, tuberculosis, pneumonia, gastroenteritis, meningitis and encephalitis. Our funding for this work comes predominantly from the Fleming Fund (a UK aid program managed by the UK’s Department of Health & Social Care) and the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security (part of DFAT).

Recently, we have increased our support to the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health to help them prepare to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the government of Timor-Leste proactive in instituting measures focused on border control, quarantine, social distancing and hand hygiene.

Our role in the response has included:

  • Establishing capacity for testing in-country in the National Health Laboratory, as well as sentinel testing in the districts.
  • Supporting surveillance and outbreak response measures within the Ministry of Health.
  • Supporting development and implementation of clinical management and infection prevention and control guidelines in key treatment facilities.

Dr Jennifer Yan, co-lead of Menzies’ Timor-Leste projects says that this integrated, collaborative approach built on past work and relationships is critical when responding to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our work has had ongoing focus on these three areas. In the laboratory, we have helped the National Health Laboratory to establish real-time PCR testing for COVID-19, enabling rapid access to test results within the country. We continue to work closely with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health’s Surveillance Department to deliver training and continually revise the strategy for COVID-19 surveillance, based on the ever-changing situation. And we are working closely with our clinician colleagues on issues around the recognition, diagnosis and management of COVID-19,” Dr Yan said.

Technical advisor Ismael Barreto, who oversees the National Health Laboratory, agrees that Menzies’ previous work and capacity building has been integral to Timor-Leste’s strong response to the pandemic.

“We fight against a novel virus that still little is known about. Without basing decisions on scientific evidence; the impact would be huge,” Mr Barreto said.

“Menzies has been working with the Ministry of Health to strengthen surveillance and diagnostic capacity for infectious diseases, and the COVID-19 pandemic is a real-time test on whether what has been done works. We have the local capacity to test for the virus. That is a significant advantage on the fight against COVID-19; which for some developing countries would be a luxury.”

There have so far been 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste. There are currently no confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste.