Expertise in high demand amid pandemic

Expertise in high demand amid pandemic

A pathology laboratory has been set up at Australia’s main operating base in the Middle East to provide quick-time results of COVID-19 testing in response to the global pandemic.

Deployed on Operation Accordion is Squadron Leader Helen Webb, a medical scientist who processes and provides the results.

Medical scientists use their expertise to help medical practitioners in the diagnosis, monitoring and prevention of disease through the analysis of biological specimens. 

Squadron Leader Webb’s role has been essential in ensuring the continued day-to-day operations for deployed ADF personnel in the Middle East.  

“As a medical scientist in the ADF, I’m normally involved in pathology, whether that’s haematology or biochemistry and providing medical results for doctors at their request,” Squadron Leader Webb said. 

“However, now that COVID-19 is all upon us, a large part of my duties includes conducting the testing for that as well.

“The COVID-19 testing we do is Polymerase Chain Reaction [PCR] testing. For PCR real-time testing, we have two analysers providing about a one-hour turnaround time for each sample – we can run quite a few samples at the same time. 

“It’s quick, efficient and comparable with what is used back in Australia.”

Squadron Leader Webb said the pathology lab had been an essential addition to the health centre where she is operating. 

“To be able to test for the virus where we are is a great capability to have,” she said. 

“It allows us to know that we are all safe while we are here and allows us to screen any potential patients we might have.”

The pathology lab was designed and setup initially by an Army scientist in theatre and operated by another Air Force medical scientist. 

“It was well supported by those back in Australia, such as Joint Health Command, who provided us the equipment at our request and the health logistic personnel who managed to get us all the consumables we needed,” Squadron Leader Webb said.

This has been Squadron Leader Webb’s second time deployed on Operation Accordion at Australia’s main operating base.

“During my 34-year career in Defence, I have deployed all around the world to places such as Bougainville, Timor Leste, Pakistan and Afghanistan numerous times,” she said.

“I would recommend this job to anyone interested in medical science. It’s diverse, you get to work with many professionals and you get to see quite a lot. 

“It’s enjoyable, even now that COVID-19 has significantly increased our workload.”

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