Menzies has had a key role in helping the Ministry of Health in Timor-Leste prepare for the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak through health systems strengthening. Currently, Timor-Leste has only one confirmed case of COVID-19, however an outbreak could have devastating impacts.

To help the Ministry of Health prepare health workers, we have supported the establishment of COVID-19 testing in the National Health Laboratory, and the development of guidelines and training activities covering triage, infection prevention and control, clinical management, and surveillance and outbreak response.

The first test of a suspected COVID-19 case was carried out with Menzies assistance, and then air-freighted to Royal Darwin Hospital for analysis. This quick response was possible because of the strong relationships which have been built from our growing program of work in Timor-Leste, helping the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture to improve surveillance of, and response to, infectious diseases.

Paediatric infectious disease specialist Dr Josh Francis is helping lead this response. 

“We are continuing with the health system strengthening and implementation research work, which is focused on infectious diseases diagnosis, surveillance and public health responses,” Dr Francis said.

“The systems we have established to improve capacity in diagnostic microbiology and clinical recognition and diagnosis of infectious diseases, are readily applicable to scaling up capacity to respond to and manage a large outbreak of a respiratory virus like COVID-19.

“Mentors within the team continue to work in Timor-Leste and remotely from Australia, to support a team of more than 20 Timorese Menzies staff, working hard alongside their Ministry of Health colleagues to prepare as much as possible for what lies ahead.”

Nevio Sarmento, a Menzies PhD student from Timor-Leste, has also returned to Dili to help scale up molecular diagnostic testing for COVID-19 in country. 

Menzies established an office in Dili, Timor-Leste in 2019 following our work on the STRONG TL program, which aims to strengthen communicable disease surveillance and control in Timor-Leste and evaluate the impact of improved surveillance on health system and health security policy responsiveness. 

The 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 (a Centre within the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).

Find out more about our STRONG TL and Fleming Fund programs here: