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  • Complacency over COVID is costing us
    by Burnet Institute on 5月 12, 2022 at 2:00 下午

    More than 5000 Australians have lost their lives this year to COVID-19, twice the number of flu deaths in the past six years. With rising cases, is complacency over COVID costing us? Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC and epidemiologist Professor Mike Toole AM argue in an Opinion article published in The Age that complacency about high transmission is not a price we are paying for our freedom; it is robbing us of it. Complacency over COVID is costing us Five weeks into an election campaign, there has been nary a mention by either major party about the greatest public health crisis in our lifetimes. The COVID-19 pandemic is being presented to the public as something that happened in the past. And this messaging is not just at the federal level; every state and territory is on board. But the reality is very different, the pandemic is still with us and is hurting us badly. On average, Australia is reporting an eye-watering 40,000 plus new cases every day. Australia now ranks second in the world for cases per million among countries with a population of more than one million. There is no sign of this slowing down. High case numbers matter to our health and to the functioning of our society. Ambulance ramping, emergency department and healthcare stress, travel chaos, general staff shortages, school disruptions, and a slow return to work are just some examples that tell a polar opposite story to the prevailing ‘live with COVID’ narrative. Three hundred and fifty thousand people currently have COVID in Australia, all are at home, more than 3000 are in hospital, and an incomprehensible 40 or so are dying each day. More than 5000 people have lost their lives in the last four and a half months, twice the number of flu deaths in the past six years. As the Bureau of Statistics revealed, COVID-19 was the second most common cause of death in January, 2022. This is an extraordinary toll. Not to mention the looming threat of long COVID, which according to overseas data may affect up to 10 per cent of those infected. This syndrome, which is still poorly understood, can affect the heart, brain, liver and other organs and could cause high levels of absenteeism and place even further pressure on the healthcare system. Uncertainty in this alone is sufficient to adopt the precautionary principle. It’s no accident that we have such high case numbers. It is more-or-less universal policy to release the brakes to such a degree that a large proportion of the Australian population has been infected in just a matter of months. Somehow, we have ourselves believing that almost unfettered COVID-19 spread is OK, that it’s a price worth paying to have our freedom, our businesses, social life, schools and society back to normal. The widely expressed sentiment, from the top down is “we have a well vaccinated population that has reduced COVID to nothing more than the flu so let’s just get on with it”. But this misleading, and it’s an attitude that is costing us dearly. More than 5000 people have lost their lives this year. Somehow, we have ourselves believing that almost unfettered COVID-19 spread is OK, that it’s a price worth paying to have our freedom back to normal, write Brendan Crabb and Mike Toole. | OPINION https://t.co/P5CEndPNY3— The Age (@theage) May 13, 2022 So, what will happen as we enter winter when there will be a lot more indoor gatherings? Without mask mandates and inadequate attention to indoor ventilation, the highly infectious Omicron BA.2 sub-variant, and its evolved relatives BA.2.12.1, BA4 and BA5 that are now here in Australia, will inevitably spread widely leading to more cases, hospitalisations, and deaths. In addition, there are already signs of a significant influenza season. What is of most concern is the emergence of a new variant of concern, a new curveball like Delta and Omicron were when they arrived, coinciding with winter; on average, a new variant has emerged every six months, so we are already overdue for a new one. Is there a better way? The short answer is a resounding yes! The most important thing is to change our collective attitude to one that says transmission matters, and then to base a response on critical interventions that we know are not onerous: vaccination, a clean air strategy, high-quality masks indoors and testing. Testing is crucial, both to surveillance as we are flying blind otherwise, and to individuals such as those who have COVID simply must know, so they can protect others by isolating. As effective as vaccines are, and they are rightly the backbone of our response, the mantra that we are even close to sufficiently vaccinated is plain wrong. While two-dose coverage is high, we know that two doses is not sufficient to protect against Omicron. Only 70 per cent of eligible Australians have had a third dose, and many now need their 4th. What is even more worrying is that only 37 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 years have had two doses of vaccine. And of course, children under 5 remain unvaccinated as there is not yet a licensed vaccine for this group. We need to do much better. The irony of all this is that high transmission is not a price we are paying for our freedom; it is robbing us of it. As one of the countries with the worst transmission rates of COVID-19 in the world, we urgently need a change of mindset to one where reducing the number of cases matters. We must reduce transmission rates, and to do this with minimal disruption to normal life. It can be done. But we must want it. This simple message, delivered unambiguously from the top federally and in each state and territory, is more important that the specifics of how to achieve it. It’s the pivot we need. Read the full article here.

  • Burnet Institute – Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan
    by Burnet Institute on 5月 11, 2022 at 2:00 下午
  • New partnership to accelerate diagnostic health solutions for remote and rural communities
    by Burnet Institute on 5月 11, 2022 at 2:00 下午

    The development and delivery of new diagnostic solutions to remote communities in Australia, New Zealand and internationally is the goal of a new strategic partnership between Australian medical research organisation, Burnet Institute, and New Zealand biotech company Orbis Diagnostics. The partnership will bring together Burnet’s research excellence and Orbis’ expertise in the production of lab-quality point-of-care diagnostics to accelerate the development of a suite of finger-prick blood tests for infectious disease and liver health. Jennifer Barnes, Director of Burnet Diagnostics Initiative said developing simple, accurate diagnostic tests that can be easily operated in remote and rural areas is essential to improving the health of communities globally. “A key challenge to delivering health care in rural communities is access. Removing the waiting time for diagnostic test results will be a major step towards helping address this challenge,” Ms Barnes said. “Our focus has been on the development of lateral flow tests, but the partnership with Orbis Diagnostics will allow us to develop our biomarkers into multiple test formats and reach more communities in need. “We are pleased to continue our commitment to deliver lab-quality testing to remote and resource limited communities to improve health security and aid in disease elimination both at home in Australia and globally.” Image: A family living in a remote part of Australia. Orbis Chief Executive, Damian Camp said the opportunity to partner with the Burnet Institute is a significant step towards applying Orbis’ miniaturised, automated pathology lab solution to address the challenges with delivering health care to rural populations “We understand access is a major barrier for many people who live in remote locations,“ Mr Camp said. “Because our diagnostic technology platform is specifically designed to provide quick and accurate information about a persons’ health, at point of need, we can help overcome this barrier so that the right healthcare is provided where and when it is needed. “The partnership will involve developing a suite of diagnostic screening products. The type of tests offered will be based on high need but could span analysing a person’s liver function right through to testing for sexually transmitted diseases. “Through our COVID-19 immunity test, we’ve successfully demonstrated our technology has huge potential to run a number of diagnostic tests at the point of care. We’re aiming to run a real-world pilot of our diagnostic testing solutions in a remote location in the next 12 months." With comparable accuracy to the complex tests available in medical labs, each Orbis device is capable of testing up to eight people at a time and reporting results within 15 minutes from a finger-prick sample, making it a robust, cost effective, scalable, and practical solution to support delivery of rural health services. Ms Barnes said Burnet Institute brings over 30 years of expertise in translating diagnostic research into practical products that help individuals better manage their health. “We’re excited to be collaborating with Orbis Diagnostics to translate our research into practical diagnostic solutions for unmet health needs,” she said. About Orbis Diagnostics Orbis Diagnostics is a next-generation point-of-care diagnostics company that is transforming community-based healthcare. Powered by microfluidic and photonic innovations, Orbis’ automated desktop system successfully miniaturises the medical lab to delivering real-time, actionable test results from a finger-prick of blood.

  • Burnet support for investment boost in region's health
    by Burnet Institute on 5月 4, 2022 at 9:00 下午

    Australia needs to invest in fairer access to healthcare for people in the Indo-Pacific region according to a campaign launched today by a group of the nation’s leading health, development and research institutions including Burnet Institute. Led by the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) and The Fred Hollows Foundation as members of the Health Expert Advisory Committee, the campaign calls for increased investment in stronger, more resilient health systems in the Indo-Pacific region. In an Open Letter published in The Australian newspaper, the Committee is urging all political parties to build on existing commitments to help our neighbours by increasing investment in: Fully vaccinating the world’s population for COVID-19 and tackling vaccine hesitancy Delivering quality health services that reach people in need Training a new generation of frontline health workers to get vaccines and treatment to people in local communities Monitoring pandemic outbreaks and responding to infectious diseases; and Supporting governments in the region to plan, budget and manage healthcare services ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said a key take-out was the importance of supporting self-determination for our neighbours regarding their health security. “People have the right to tailored healthcare that meets their needs, that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg or have them jumping through multiple hoops to access,” Mr Purcell said. “This is about building a healthier world, and we know it starts by recognising the strong cultural, economic and trade ties we have to our closest neighbours in the Indo-Pacific.” The recommendations set out in the campaign are built from well-researched evidence published in three reports: End COVID for All Health security in the Pacific: Expert perspectives to guide health system strengthening Investing in our future: Building strong and resilient health systems in the Indo-Pacific Region The Fred Hollows Foundation’s CEO Ian Wishart said the campaign was an evidence-based collaborative effort, drawing on the experiences of NGOs and their in-country programs and relationships. “We recognise that our call for greater investment in health and development must be based on evidence,” Mr Wishart said. “The Health Expert Advisory Committee has found that improving equity strengthens health systems, making them more resilient to severe events like pandemics. “Australia’s relationship with the Indo-Pacific is inextricable, and without resilient health systems in the whole region, our security and prosperity are at stake. We are, quite literally, in this together.”

  • Burnet Institute and WEHI stand with transgender and gender diverse people
    by Burnet Institute on 4月 29, 2022 at 2:00 上午

    Our institutes are passionate about equality and social justice and believe that LGBTQIA+ inclusion is our collective responsibility. We celebrate the achievements and contributions of transgender and gender diverse people around Australia and globally. We recognise that inclusion is not where it should be in 2022, and that this has a profoundly negative impact upon the health and wellbeing of transgender and gender diverse people - especially young community members. Dr Elissa Kennedy, Burnet’s Co-Head of Adolescent Health said: “The majority of transgender people in Australia experience transphobia, with devastating impacts on young people’s wellbeing – 80 per cent of transgender young people have experienced self-harm and almost half have attempted suicide by the age of 24. The rights of transgender and gender diverse people to live in safety and participate freely in society should not be up for debate.” WEHI established WE-Pride in 2018 to actively support LGBTQIA+ people across the Institute. WE-Pride Co-Chair, Belinda Zipper said: “Compared to the general population, young people from the LGBTQIA+ community are at an elevated risk of experiencing poor mental health, lack of family support, social isolation and depression. We encourage the Australian community to stand united in support of transgender and gender diverse people. Let’s become strong allies for all transgender and gender diverse people in our communities.” The current conflicting public discourse about the freedoms of transgender people exacerbates the existing challenges that gender diverse people face. In particular, there is clear evidence that links a lack of support for transgender and gender diverse people to poor mental health. Burnet Institute and WEHI celebrate diversity and are committed to challenging attitudes and assumptions that could become a barrier to the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people. LGBTQIA+ inclusion is for all of us to support.

  • New funding for hepatitis campaigns
    by Burnet Institute on 4月 28, 2022 at 2:00 下午

    EC Australia, a partnership co-ordinated by Burnet Institute focused on the elimination of Hepatitis C, welcomes the provision of AUD $1.25 million in funding from the Australian Government Department of Health. The funding will support three different awareness campaigns as part of a broader partnership, the National Hepatitis C 50,000 Project, which aims to scale up testing and treatment. The funds will boost paid advertising for the It’s Your Right campaign and will also support the codesign of Aboriginal specific creative and artwork for the rollout. EC Australia will also work in partnership with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to design and implement a hepatitis treatment campaign for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations. The 50,000 Project is an innovative national partnership project to scale up testing and treatment to find 50,000 people living with hepatitis C by the end of 2022. In doing so, the 50,000 Project will be central in Australia achieving the 2022 national hepatitis C targets for testing and treatment. Background: All Australians living with hepatitis C should be given the opportunity to live free from hepatitis C and to engage in our national elimination mission. Australia is ramping up its efforts to achieve its national hepatitis C testing and treatment targets. Australians who have not yet been reached in our hepatitis C national response are geographically, socially, and demographically diverse and dispersed. It is acknowledged that a business-as-usual hepatitis C response will not be sufficient to reach this broad cohort and our goals. In November 2020, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, Federal Minister for Health, committed to finding 50,000 people living with hepatitis C by the end of 2022. Mobilised around this shared commitment, a sector-led proposal was developed on how this could be achieved resulting in the establishment of the National Hepatitis C 50,000 Project with support from the Minister for Health, the Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmissible Infections (BBVSTI) Standing Committee and the Australian Department of Health. About the National Hepatitis C 50,000 Project: Premised on health and geographic equity, the 50,000 Project seeks to concurrently scale up five pillars of activity in areas where concerted effort is needed and where treatment targets are at risk of being missed. The Project is consistent with existing priorities for action in the National Hepatitis C Strategy and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander BBV/STI Strategy. The pillars are inter-related and mutually reinforcing. By implementing all activities concurrently, there is scope to amplify their reach, reinforce messages, and increase engagements and outcomes. The activities leverage and scale up the existing service system, and local capabilities to enable engagement that is above and beyond ‘business-as-usual’. The Project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

  • Boost for major project to tackle AMR in PNG
    by Burnet Institute on 4月 27, 2022 at 5:00 上午

    Tackling the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) will benefit from a renewal of funding for a major Burnet Institute-led project. Supported by the Fleming Fund – a £265 million UK Aid program to address AMR in low- and middle-income countries – the project brings together experts in animal and human health, microbiology and surveillance, information technology and construction to support PNG’s domestic response to AMR. AMR occurs when microbes (including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites) develop resistance to medicines over time. Indeed, AMR has been declared one of the top ten global public health threats by the World Health Organization. AMR is complicating the global fight against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, as once medicines become ineffective, infections persist in the body increasing the risk of transmission. The Fleming Fund project embraces a One Health approach that recognises that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. Image: The British High Commissioner to PNG HE Keith Scott visits the laboratory at Port Moresby General Hospital In late March an extension of the project until the end of 2022 was granted to enable the original design to be delivered, following delays resulting from COVID-19 restrictions. The project aims to strengthen surveillance and monitoring in the human and animal health sectors in PNG through the establishment of working groups across key sectors, the training of laboratory personnel in biosafety and lab management and enhancing laboratory infrastructure to support surveillance and diagnostic capabilities for AMR. Program Director, Professor Robert Power AM, said the primary aim of this next phase is to proceed with a limited program of laboratory renovation and refurbishment (with a reference laboratory in Port Moresby) and to establish sentinel sites elsewhere in the country that will collect and analyse samples and data. “The funding will enable work to resume to transport and instal essential laboratory equipment and to train staff in its use,” Professor Power said. “In fact, a team of experts from Australia has just returned from a first visit to PNG to get this work underway.” Senior Technical Advisor, Dr Amrita Ronnachit noted: “We are entering an exciting phase where we hope to establish a robust functioning AMR surveillance system in PNG.” “The challenges we face will be continuing to bring together the many multi-sectoral stakeholders to work under the one health framework, working closely with the National Antimicrobial Steering Committee.” Image: New laboratory equipment ready to be unpacked at Port Moresby General Hospital Her thoughts were echoed by Fleming Fund Country Grant PNG Team Leader, Dr Stenard Yingiang Hiasihri. “The Fleming Fund is indeed a blessing to PNG in its response to AMR,” Dr Hiasihri said. “We take this new period as the opportunity to get the basic pillars in place and to establish a sentinel laboratory site in Port Moresby and do our best with this opportunity that has been placed on us." Another significant development was the visit of British High Commissioner to PNG, HE Keith Scott to the laboratory facilities at Port Moresby General Hospital for an update on progress and plans. “I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed visiting the lab at Port Moresby General Hospital,” Mr Scott said. “It was great to see equipment there and getting up and running, but it was even better to see first-hand the enthusiasm and commitment of the whole team on the ground. “I just wish I could bottle some of that energy for use at other times! I look forward to future visits and continuing to support the program.” As Professor Power notes: “The High Commissioner’s comments sum up the excitement and optimism we all feel in moving froward in addressing this important public health threat to PNG and beyond.”

  • The case for companionship in labour
    by Burnet Institute on 4月 27, 2022 at 1:30 上午

    Strong support from women and their partners for companionship during labour and birth is being limited by inadequate hospital infrastructure, restrictive policies, work practices and mixed views from health providers, a new Burnet Institute study into pregnancy and childbirth services in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has revealed. The study, led by Burnet Senior Research Fellow Dr Alyce Wilson, identifies barriers and enablers to companionship during labour and birth, and recommends a framework to facilitate the practice in PNG health facilities. “Global research shows the presence of a companion can improve the birthing experience and lead to improved health outcomes for the woman and infant, and what we observed in this study was a strong desire from women to have a companion present during labour and birth,” Dr Wilson said. “It could be a partner, but it could also be a cousin, an auntie or a sister. We also found that the partners really want to be involved in the labour and childbirth process.” The study, however, revealed mixed views among health providers, and barriers to companionship including a lack of privacy in health facility labour wards, and a lack of formal policies regarding companionship. “Health providers acknowledged the benefits companions provide in terms of encouragement, advocacy and physical support during labour,” study co-author and Burnet Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies project Team Leader Pele Melepia, said. “On the other hand, they were often unsure how to include the companion in the care team, and sometimes felt this changed the dynamic in the birth suite with a potential effect on care.” Image: Study co-author Pele Melepia (right) attends to a new mother at Nonga Hospital, ENB province, PNG The research team’s response was to develop a structural framework to facilitate companionship during labour and birth at community, facility, and provincial level, including: Enabling policies and protocols Adequate resourcing and accountability Education and training for health providers Health provider support and preparation for companions The need for health facility infrastructure that allows privacy Recognition of customs and cultures around companions during labour and birth The need to engage women and their families in the process of having a facility-based birth “Having a companion of choice present can help with outcomes in terms of labour and birth and can mean that women will be more likely to want to come to a facility to give birth,” Dr Wilson said. “If that’s shared in the community, it will encourage others to attend. “We know in PNG many women won’t give birth in a facility for geographical, financial, cultural or logistical reasons, so medical care needs to be as accessible as possible for those who can attend. “You need to be in a facility, for example, to prevent and manage postpartum haemorrhage which is one of the major causes of maternal mortality in PNG – so while this study is about companionship, there are serious flow-on effects.” The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights labour companions as an important component of quality care and recommends that all women have the opportunity to be supported by a companion. Dr Wilson said she expects lessons from the study, conducted in PNG’s East New Britain province, would apply not only throughout PNG, but across the Pacific where there are similar challenges and barriers to quality maternal and newborn care. This research was published in the journal PLOS Global Public Health.

  • Professor Elizabeth Hartland new Chair of VicAAMRI
    by Burnet Institute on 4月 27, 2022 at 1:20 上午

    The Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (VicAAMRI) has announced Professor Elizabeth Hartland as its new Chair to succeed Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC in the role. Professor Hartland is Director and CEO of Hudson Institute for Medical Research, and Head of the Department of Molecular and Translational Science, Monash University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. She is a trained microbiologist and international leader in the field of microbiology and immunology. Professor Hartland will be joined by new Chair-elect, Professor Ricky Johnstone, Executive Director Cancer Research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Head of the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, University of Melbourne. “As we begin to emerge from a time of unprecedented challenges to global health, the value of a strong medical research sector has never been more apparent,” Professor Hartland said. “By supporting Victoria’s outstanding health and medical research workforce and investing in our capabilities, we can cement our place as one of the world’s premier locations for medical research.” Professor Crabb said it had been a privilege to serve as the inaugural Chair of VicAAMRI. “Recent years have served to greatly reinforce the important of a strong medical research sector, and Victoria continues to assert its place as a world leading hub for medical research,” Professor Crabb said. “VicAAMRI’s new leadership team will continue to take our state from strength to strength and help to ensure that we realise the life-changing potential of medical research.” VicAAMRI extends its warmest thanks and gratitude to Professor Crabb for his leadership and dedication since the organisation’s establishment in 2016.

  • Three pillars of malaria elimination
    by Burnet Institute on 4月 24, 2022 at 4:00 下午

    On World Malaria Day 2022, Burnet Institute is affirming its commitment to a malaria research program built on three pillars – prevention, detection and treatment – to accelerate the process of malaria elimination globally. “If we want malaria elimination, we’ve got to have tools that block and interrupt transmission,” Professor James Beeson, Head of Burnet’s Malaria Immunity and Vaccines Laboratory, said. “And there are three arms to these tools – new vaccines for prevention, improved diagnostics and surveillance for detection, and better drugs for treatment – that form the broad objective of our program.” New Vaccines for Prevention Burnet’s vaccine program is aimed at developing vaccines that are highly effective at preventing infection, stopping people getting sick, and suppressing and eliminating the transmission of malaria in communities. A key study led by Postdoctoral Research Officer Dr Liriye Kurtovic is looking closely at RTS,S, the only vaccine endorsed by the World Health Organization despite the modest level of protection it gives. *(https://youtu.be/WHQZitLtTBE) “RTS,S is an imperfect tool, it’s efficacy is only about 30-50 percent, but for a disease with such a large burden that can still make a significant difference when used in combination with other interventions,” Dr Kurtovic said. “In our lab, we’re interested in understanding how the vaccine works. We know it induces antibodies, but we want to know how they function to prevent malaria. “We need a vaccine that’s a step up from RTS,S, that will stop infection and stop transmission, and we’ve got some exciting new insights into how the immune system works to clear the infection.” Hear from Professor Beeson on the challenge of creating a malaria vaccine in Episode 8 of Burnet Institute’s How Science Matters podcast. Improved Diagnostics and Surveillance for Detection “In order to eliminate malaria, we have to be able to detect it, and we know there’s a huge undiscovered burden because tests are not picking up between 50 to 90 per cent of infections depending on the setting and type of malaria,” Professor Beeson said. Burnet’s STRIVE PNG study is helping to address this problem through the establishment of a real-time integrated sentinel surveillance and response system in eight provinces across Papua New Guinea (PNG). STRIVE PNG is generating evidence to enable the implementation of rapid-response strategies for malaria and other vector-borne diseases (VBDs) and strengthening PNG’s capacity for research implementation and the development of policies to safeguard the country against VBDs. Better Drugs for Treatment “Drug resistance is spreading globally, and it’s putting at risk our ability to treat and clear malaria infection, so we need to develop drugs to overcome the problem of resistance and clear infection and, most importantly, help suppress infections in communities,” Professor Beeson said. Burnet’s work in this field includes new research led by Malaria Virulence and Drug Discovery Group Co-Head, Associate Professor Paul Gilson, that identifies processes in the malaria parasite essential for its survival. “The more we understand about these processes, the better position we’re in to develop new treatments to block those processes,” Associate Professor Gilson, said. “Current drugs tend to target very similar steps in malaria’s machinery, but by discovering new targets and developing drugs to these we can hopefully overcome resistance.” The Big Picture Fundamental to Burnet’s malaria program and approach is that research and activities are undertaken across a broad spectrum. “We have discovery science work that is conducted in our laboratories, or through data analysis and modelling, and research and clinical trials that we conduct with communities and partner organisations in populations affected by malaria,” Professor Beeson said. “We also address how to implement new interventions, new strategies or new tools in communities in areas affected by malaria, and how to ensure everyone has access to these potential new tools and interventions. “At a time when the global burden of malaria is on the rise, our work and our expertise has never been more relevant or more important.” Click here to find out more about Burnet’s malaria research and how you can support this life-saving work.

 

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