Royal College of Pathologists of Australia says the pandemic is ‘suppressed’ to ‘intermittent’ outbreaks, thanks to the dedication of thousands of pathologists, medical scientists, and laboratory professionals
COVID-19 efforts in Australia have achieved a milestone. Pathology laboratories there have performed more than 12 million SARS-CoV-2 tests since the pandemic began. That is an impressive feat and is equal to about half the country’s population of 25.4 million people.
In a column for ABC News, Dr. Debra Graves, MBBS, Chef Executive Officer, Royal College of Pathologists of Australia (RCPA) and Dr. Lawrie Bott, MBBS, Vice President of RCPA, and Chief Medical Officer of Sonic Pathology Australia, described the accomplishment. “Never before has pathology testing made such a clear contribution to the well-being of the community as during this pandemic,” they wrote.
“It is an incredible feat,” they continued. “Australia’s current position of having effectively suppressed the virus to intermittent outbreaks owes much to the year-long dedication and ingenuity of 35,000 pathologists, medical scientists, lab technicians, couriers, phlebotomists, and ancillary personnel.”
Australia Pathology Society Recognizes Accomplishments
Furthermore, Graves and Bott wrote, pathology in Australia deserves recognition for these pandemic-related accomplishments, among others, as well:
- The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), Melbourne, successfully grew the coronavirus from a patient sample—the first lab outside China to do so.
- Australia launched drive-through COVID-19 testing clinics even before the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO).
- An RCPA quality assurance program for lab COVID-19 testing was the first of its kind to start worldwide, and it became a model for other countries.
- Australia’s pathology labs were fast to develop in-house test kits once they had the genome sequence for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Quick Responses to COVID-19 in the Land Down Under
The Doherty Institute (a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital) offers research, teaching, public health and reference lab services, diagnostics, and clinical care for infectious diseases and immunity.
Doherty Institute researchers also were first to report on immune response to COVID-19, according to a second news release.
Their paper in Nature Medicine, titled, “Breadth of Concomitant Immune Responses Prior to Patient Recovery: A Case Report of Non-Severe COVID-19,” describes the immune response in a 47-year-old COVID-19 positive female who traveled from Wuhan, China, and presented in an emergency department in Melbourne.
Australian researchers were able to respond quickly by using the Sentinel Travelers and Research Preparedness Platform for Emerging Infectious Disease (SETREP-ID) at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“When COVID-19 emerged, we already had ethics and protocols in place so we could rapidly start looking at the virus and immune system in great deal,” Dr. Irani Thevarajan, Infectious Disease Physician, Doherty Institute, Royal Melbourne Hospital, said in the second news release.
“Our study provides novel contributions to the understanding and kinetics of immune responses during a non-severe case of COVID-19. This patient did not experience complications of respiratory failure or acute respiratory distress syndrome, did not require supplemental oxygenation, and was discharged within a week of hospitalization, consistent with non-severe but symptomatic disease,” Thevarajan and co-authors wrote in Nature Medicine.
Drive-Through COVID-19 Testing Sites in Australia
Also impressive was Australia’s launch of drive-through COVID-19 testing on March 9, 2020, before the pandemic was declared by WHO on March 11.
The COVID-19 testing site in Adelaide, South Australia, was “believed to be a first for the country’s public health system,” ABC News reported.
Was it the first worldwide? Possibly. In “Sean Penn’s Foundation Partners with Healthcare Providers in Four States to Offer Drive-Thru COVID-19 Molecular and Serological Clinical Laboratory Specimen Collections,” Dark Daily reported on COVID-19 drive-through testing sites opening in May, 2020, in four states in the United States with the help of Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), which was founded by Penn following the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti. The non-profit foundation began planning for the drive-through specimen collection sites in April of 2020.
Public Recognition for Medical Laboratories has Global Reach
The COVID-19 response and scientific contributions by pathology laboratory scientists and researchers in Australia are noteworthy. It is also significant that Australia’s pathology professional society sought recognition for medical laboratory workers by detailing their accomplishments during the pandemic and sharing them in media with national and global reach.
—Donna Marie Pocius