BY LYNTON AARON FILIA
THIRTY-ONE officers from Government ministries and private sectors completed a one-day technical workshop on developing local food and water microbiological testing capacity held at the Environmental Health Division Conference Centre, Ministry of Health headquarters in Honiara.
The workshop was organised by the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) of the Ministry of Health & Medical Services (MHMS), Cawthron Institute of New Zealand and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).
The purpose of the workshop is to address gaps and update key government officials and stakeholders on the progress of two concurrent projects.
The projects are; Strengthening the capacity of the National Public Health Laboratory to provide services in support of market access for Solomon Island fish exporters and Strengthening the sustainability of Solomon Islands National Public Health Laboratory to obtain and maintain international accreditation.
FAO-UN is the main funding agency and the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), and ratified by the MHMS.
The Solomon Islands fishing industry is one of country’s major industry sectors employing more than 2000 people and also contributing substantially to government revenues and the national economy.
Processed fish (mainly canned tuna and cooked tuna loins) are among the top three commodities with the highest revenues from international trade.
The Solomon Islands has been approved to export fish to the European Union (EU). Maintaining access to the EU (largest destination market) and other international markets is a national priority.
Substantial support has already been provided by Australia and the EU to establish the competent authority for food safety and the infrastructure for diagnostic testing.
However, additional assistance is needed to enable the national laboratory to carry out microbiological testing in line with international standards to maintain access to overseas markets.
This support is expected to protect jobs in the fishing industry and sustain commercial fish exports which are worth approximately US$45million.
Upon completion, the project will enable the NPHL to comply with international microbiological food testing standards.
Laboratory staff will be trained and essential quality systems put in place to comply with international standards and good practice techniques.
By the end of the project in 2020 the laboratory will be assessed as ready for ISO 17025 certification for microbiological testing by a relevant international accreditation body for example, International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ).
Increased access to clean water and safe food are priority development goals for public health in the Solomon Islands.
By strengthening the laboratory’s capacity to monitor and evaluate contamination risks associated with water and food, the project will support efforts to protect domestic public health.
The laboratory will also be in a position to provide testing support to government agencies and international organizations involved in the delivery of local water projects and water management interventions.
The key government agency for implementing such interventions is the Environment Health Division health inspectors including the Honiara City Council health inspectors who are legally mandated to carry out water and food sampling routines and inspections and respond to public health issues.
The public is therefore advised to address their public health concerns and samples through our local health inspectors who will bring samples to the NPHL for analysis.
The technical workshop concluded with a visit to the National Public Health Laboratory facility located at the Solomon Islands National University, Kukum Campus.
A total of 21 participants were given the opportunity to observe the types of microbiological tests and instruments used to determine water and food quality.
It was a new and rewarding experience for the participants which helped them appreciate the importance of developing local laboratory testing capacity.
There are 31 attendees for the workshop includes key representatives from the MHMS such as Environmental Health Division, Competent Authority and Food Safety, Nutrition and Food Security Unit, NPHL.
Ministry of Public Service, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Ministry of Commerce Industries Labour and Immigration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL), Ministry of Development Planning and Aid Coordination (MDPAC) and Honiara City Council Environmental Health Officers.
Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Programme (PHAMA), FAO, Cawthron Institute, local food and water industries such as Soltuna, and Solomon Water.
Temotu Fish Limited, Sasha Water, Southern Seas Investment, Commodity Export Marketing Limited (CEMA), Kokonut Pacific Solomon Islands (KPSI), Sol Fish Ltd and Szetu Breweries Ltd.