Building Pacific operational research capacity in health
Written by Boris Colas   
Friday, 28 September 2012
 Twelve Pacific Island health professionals from seven countries, who participated in the first module of a Pacific Operational Research course at the beginning of September, have developed research protocols on several health topics — tuberculosis, diabetes, other non-communicable diseases and leprosy – of particular concern to their country.

Organised jointly by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), the course is funded by SPC through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the World Diabetes Foundation.


The course is organised in three modules — the first two in September and December this year in Nadi, the third next August in Auckland — and is specially designed to train and guide the participants in operational research methods by conducting appropriate and country-driven studies. The topics of the research were chosen by the participants themselves.


Ms Mareta Hauma, coordinator of the Tuberculosis Programme in Ebeye, the Republic of Marshall Islands, is a very keen participant in the training.


‘I find the operational research course to be really helpful … especially to the big programmes such as the tuberculosis programme.’


Mareta is planning to conduct research on tuberculosis and diabetes, and she is eager to learn how to use the data in order to improve the TB programme in Ebeye.


‘After attending the first module of the course, I had a feeling that all the data that we had will be really useful if I apply this kind of research on it …. I hope that we will be able to solve our own problems and also make great improvements to our programme.’


Two other participants are from the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the others come from Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.


The training approach, designed by experts from The Union and Médecins Sans Frontières, is innovative and emphasises tangible outcomes that can lead to improvements in national policy and practice.


The course process is rigorous and involves a strong engagement from the participants. They have to achieve a series of milestones to stay on the course. For example, they must develop a research protocol and submit it to The Union Ethics Advisory Group for approval after module one. Module two brings data-related milestones and finally, they must produce a written manuscript for submission to a journal after the third and last module.


To assist and guide them in their research, each participant receives intense and personalised mentorship and support throughout the training, including from a distance in between the three modules.


It is anticipated that one or two of the participants from this course will become facilitators and mentors for future courses on operational research in the region.


The facilitation team for the course comprises health experts from The Union, SPC’s Public Health Division, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Auckland, the University of Sydney, the University of Otago, the Fiji Ministry of Health, and Fiji National University.


SPC and The Union are planning to organise a one-day Operational Research symposium after module three of this course, which will take place at the University of Auckland in August 2013. The outcomes of the current research projects will be featured during this symposium, as they may be applicable in other Pacific Island countries and beyond.


Operational Research is part of SPC’s Public Health Division strategy. The Division includes a Surveillance and Operational Research Team that aims to promote sustainable approaches to operational research in the Pacific Islands region.


For more information, please contact: Ms Kerri Viney, Acting TB Advisor at SPC Public Health Division (email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ) or Christelle Lepers, Surveillance Information and Communication Officer at SPC (tel.: +687 26 01 81 –email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

Last Updated ( Monday, 12 November 2012 )