Serological surveillance for vaccine preventable diseases in the Western Pacific Region

Serological surveillance for vaccine preventable diseases in the Western Pacific Region


In the Western Pacific Region (WPR), successful delivery of immunisation programs has led to the elimination of polio and maternal and neonatal tetanus (the latter in all countries, except Papua New Guinea [PNG]); interruption in the endemic transmission of measles; and a significant reduction in hepatitis B infections. Despite substantial progress in these areas, immunisation programs in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) in the region remain fragile. Measles and polio have recently re-emerged among adults in countries like PNG, with an outbreak of polio in 2018 and measles in 2014 (Guinea, 2019).  

Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are at high risk of measles outbreak because of their low vaccination coverage and proximity to PNG. Limited health resources and infrastructure; dispersed populations; and diverse geography in the WPR can create disparities in vaccination coverage and disease burden within and between countries.

The project aims to:

  • improve country-specific data on population immunity for vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs) and strengthen surveillance for VPDs in the WPR
  • determine age-specific seroprevalence to VPDs covered by national immunisation programs (i.e. measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus)
  • determine age-specific seroprevalence to mumps and varicella-zoster virus to estimate levels of exposure/past infection
  • establish the validated CDC multi-antigen VPD panel at the PNG Institute of Medical Research and investigate the role of VPD seroprevalence data in supporting in-country decision-making.

Dried blood spots (DBS) are collected from diverse settings and populations in many countries across the region as part of existing surveys and public health programs targeting other infections, including neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and malaria. These specimens are being used in PNG, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to determine seroprevalence as part of this project.  

PNG, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands

Strengthening the capacity of health systems and staff is a key priority across PNG, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. This project will include training local staff on technological transfer; implementation of a unique study design and methodology; DBS specimen collection and processing; and serological diagnostic assays for VPDs.  This will result in increased capacity of the local health system and staff to use integrated serological diagnostic for multiple pathogens, thereby strengthening serological surveillance of VPDs in the WPR. 

Also, a key outcome of this project is to improve country-specific data on population immunity and to identify susceptible populations that remain at risk of infection of VPDs. Detailed information collected as part of the KAP survey, which is being implemented in PNG’s Madang province, will inform the design and implementation of targeted vaccination campaigns under the national immunisation program. 
Project team

Principal Investigator: Dr Dorothy Machalek (Kirby Institute)
The study team consists of staff from the following organisations:

  • Burnet Institute
  • Kirby Institute
  • Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
  • PNG Institute of Medical Research

In collaboration with:

  • Vanuatu Ministry of Health
  • Solomon Islands Ministry of Health Medical Services
  • US Centre for Disease Control
  • Bridges to Development
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • WHO Western Pacific Region Office


Progress reports and other study findings will be shared on this page when they become available.

For more information, please email the ARIA secretariat.