Pacific network identifies the cause of the diarrhoea outbreak in Kiribati

Wednesday 24 July 2013, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Noumea, New Caledonia -

A lab technician performing a test at Mataika House Laboratory in Fiji

The pathogen causing the diarrhoea outbreak currently affecting Kiribati has been identified by Mataika House Laboratory in Fiji yesterday. It is a rotavirus.

‘We quickly performed laboratory tests at our national laboratory last week, which ruled out several suspected pathogens like cholera, but we couldn’t identify the causative pathogen at home, so we sent samples to our regional reference laboratory in Fiji in order to perform further tests,’ said Dr Teatoa Tira, Director of Public Health Services, Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Kiribati.


The laboratory diagnosis was made possible through mechanisms put in place by the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Laboratory Network (LabNet) at Mataika House Laboratory in Fiji, one of the four regional reference laboratories of the network.


‘The assistance of Fiji public health Laboratory and LabNet in the rapid identification of the pathogen responsible of this outbreak is really appreciated,’ added Dr Tira.


‘It is instrumental for understanding the outbreak and validating the control measures we have taken.’


LabNet is primarily meant to allow Pacific Island countries and territories to access, through a three-tier referral system, high-quality diagnostic services that they cannot afford in-country.


‘The Kiribati Ministry of Health’s response to this outbreak has been very good. They contacted us very quickly and Mataika House Laboratory in Fiji has also reacted promptly and efficiently,’ said Salanieta Elbourne, Leader of the Public Health Laboratory Strengthening Team at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).


LabNet includes three other regional laboratories (located in Guam, New Caledonia and French Polynesia) in addition to the Fiji laboratory, and several international reference laboratories in Pacific rim countries (Australia, New Zealand and USA) and beyond (France) that have agreed to provide diagnosis services to Pacific Island countries and territories. The reference laboratories are regularly involved in research activities as well.


Samples from Kiribati patients have also been sent from Mataika House to Victoria Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, an international reference laboratory for LabNet. This laboratory will perform highly specialised analysis to identify the type of rotavirus responsible for this outbreak. This information will be used for public health research and policy advice in the region.


SPC’s Public Health Division coordinates LabNet activities with financial assistance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the New Zealand Aid Programme, France, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Pacific Islands HIV and STI Response Fund.


For more information, please contact: Dr Teatao Tira, Director of Public Health Services, Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Kiribati (Tel.: 686 28 100) or Christelle Lepers, Surveillance Information and Communication Officer at SPC (email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it – Tél. (687) 26 01 81.


Photo caption: A lab technician performing a test at Mataika House Laboratory in Fiji