Professor Shephard is director of the Flinders University International Centre for Point-of-Care Testing, a groundbreaking unit that is a global leader and advocate for point-of-care testing research, teaching and innovation. Since 1996, this team has taken pathology testing that was previously only available in laboratories and managed its use in primary care settings across Australia and internationally.
Molecular point-of-care testing has proved invaluable in diagnosis of COVID-19 throughout remote Australia. Embedding successful elements for remote point-of-care testing of diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases, Professor Shephard and his team used gold standard SARS-CoV-2 testing on the GeneXpert medical device. This provided access to accurate COVID-19 test results in 88 remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia – generally beyond the reach of regional pathology laboratories.
“We first used GeneXpert technology nine years ago with the successful Test, Treat, ANd GO program, which was a world-first point-of-care testing network for sexually transmitted diseases in remote communities,” says Professor Shephard. “This laboratory device had never been taken into the field before, and it has provided the infrastructure necessary for effective COVID-19 testing.”
The speed that the Australian Government wanted this COVID-19 network set up was daunting, yet the response from the Flinders team and collaborating partners at the Kirby Institute (UNSW) was swift. After receiving federal funding in late April 2020 and commencing testing operation in early May, the program was running at full capacity by November 2020.
The Centre’s co-director Dr Susan Matthews says the program delivered more than 850 hours of training for remote health professionals to perform on-site tests using the GeneXpert. It has enabled more than 40,000 people in remote communities to be tested and obtain accurate COVID-19 results within 45 minutes, rather than a three-day turnaround for the same results from laboratory services – and this translates to more than 58,000 unnecessary patient isolation days that have been saved.
“Professor Shephard’s foresight of 20 years ago made this all possible,” says Dr Matthews.