Volunteer supporting Tonga to digitise immunisation records

Georgia Lack

Gaps in workforce capacity present a major threat to health security in the Indo-Pacific region. To address this, Australian experts have been working with countries across the region in preventing, detecting and responding to infectious disease threats. Through the Australian Volunteers Program and the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, the Health Security Corps was established to deploy volunteers and build capacity to prepare for and respond to infectious diseases.

Georgia Lack is a second-time volunteer with the Health Security Corps in Tonga. Georgia's background is in public health, and she has previously worked with Royal Far West providing telehealth care to rural and remote children in Australia. This is where Georgia first became interested in how technology could be used to improve the quality of health care.

Georgia first joined the Tongan Ministry of Health as a health information systems support officer in 2019. Working in partnership with the Australian company Beyond Essential Systems, her role focused on supporting the digitisation of health and medical stock records, and the expansion and rollout of mSupply, a system that tracks patient and medical stock data. Georgia's passion for using technology to drive efficiencies and quality improvements in health care motivated her to return to Tonga in 2020 to assist with the digitisation of COVID-19 vaccination data.

Georgia's return to Tonga for her second volunteer assignment is seeing her assist the Ministry of Health in using the mSupply system to digitally assign a unique vaccination number to every patient, track the cold chain of vaccines, track vaccine stock levels on a day-today basis, and provide a complete COVID-19 vaccination record for patients. These measures are particularly important in the remote outer islands where resources are limited.

"Part of why I love this role is the constant changes that come with trying to roll out a vaccine." 

- Georgia Lack

Ensuring the effective collection of information on the rollout of vaccines is particularly challenging in Tonga as its population is spread across five island groups. Before 2019, much of the immunisation information in Tonga was recorded in handwritten records or transferred into Excel spreadsheets. While this system was adequate for routine immunisation in small groups, the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent mass vaccination campaign presented new challenges. As a result, recording information by hand was no longer a viable option.

Georgia Lack with Tonga Ministry of Health staffAs of October 2021, the rollout of mSupply to track the COVID-19 vaccine campaign has reached all five island groups. Now, the Ministry of Health can see live dashboards and respond immediately to the data; for example, the Ministry and community leaders can use the information on the vaccination rates to use their mobile health teams as efficiently as possible.

Robust health records are critical to ensuring health ministries across the Indo-Pacific can track patient data and plan the delivery of appropriate and timely health services. The Health Security Corps is designed to place public health professionals in non-clinical roles to help partner countries in our region build capacity to undertake these functions, and also help to build valuable people-to-people and institutional links.

Specialist technical assistance support, such as Georgia's, has been key to facilitating a successful vaccine data collection campaign and assisting the Ministry of Health to meticulously plan to ensure the rollout progresses to each island as seamlessly as possible. The Health Security Corps welcomes professionals with specialist experience in strengthening laboratories, field epidemiology, policy development for disease control, public communication, animal health and environmental health.

Register your interest at the Australian Volunteers Program website.