THE PAPUA New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR) has been awarded funding to carry out a new investigation into maternal health, the group has announced.

Under the study, the Institute will investigate point-of-care testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections in PNG, with the aim of ultimately improving pregnancy outcomes.

PNGIMR professorial research fellow Andrew Vallely and deputy director of science William Pomat will lead the study, which will involve over 20 senior researchers and reproductive health experts based in PNG, Australia and in Europe.

Dr Vallely said the research had the potential to dramatically improve pregnancy outcomes in Papua New Guinea, as it would address a critical knowledge gap.

“We know that curable sexually transmitted and genital infections (STI) such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea are very common among pregnant women in PNG and in other low-income countries, but we also know that these are very difficult to diagnose and treat because the majority of infections are asymptomatic,” he said.

Diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and other genital infections during pregnancy can lead to serious problems if not treated, including preterm birth and low birth weight, he added.

“New, highly-accurate and easy-to-use technologies for STI testing have recently become available, which can be used by health staff in routine clinical settings,” he said.

“These technologies will for the first time allow us to provide antenatal women with same-day, clinic-based testing and treatment for curable genital infections.”.

The trial will take place at 12 antenatal clinic sites in three provinces in PNG and will be carried out over a duration of four years.

The Grant was awarded under the UK-based Joint Global Health Trials Initiative – established by the UK Department for International Development, Medical Research Council UK and the Wellcome Trust.