New funding for Pacific health challenges

Jul 2 2018

Dr David Durrheim

Conjoint Professor David Durrheim has received $1.48 million in funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) under a new investment scheme designed to strengthen health security throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

As Director of Health Protection for Hunter New England Local Health District and researching in conjunction with the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI*), Professor Durrheim and his team will engage a skilled team of health practitioners to lead infectious disease detection, response and priority research activities in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

As Australia’s closest neighbour, Professor Durrheim said investing in stronger health systems in PNG is of strategic importance to the wider security of the region.

“The serious communicable and non-communicable challenges in PNG pose an ongoing threat to the health security of PNG and neighbouring countries, including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Australia.

“The movement of people and goods between Pacific Island countries and Australia provide ample opportunity for infectious diseases to spread across the border.”

The project, Accelerating the Development of Evidence-based Policy and Practice (ADEPPt), will utilise trained alumni from PNG’s existing Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP), to form a network of local health security champions across the country.

“Local public health professionals form the core of this project, and through ADEPPt, they will undertake operational research in partnership with the National Department of Health to increase preparedness and reduce vulnerability to existing and emerging infectious diseases,” Professor Durrheim said.

With PNG ranked as one of the lowest-performing countries in the world against the United Nations’ health-related Sustainable Development Goals, Professor Durrheim said the project will help to strengthen the country’s weak public health infrastructure.

“By enabling practitioners already embedded in the PNG health system to generate valuable research knowledge, the project will tackle some of the country’s most pressing challenges, including extremely low immunisation coverage, large-scale outbreaks of measles, cholera and dengue, along with the large burden of HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis.”

The ADEPPt project will be implemented and evaluated over three years to determine its overall impact and whether the model could be adapted and applied in other low resource settings.

Led by the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, this new investment is part of the Australian Government’s $16 million Health Security Initiative to help protect the safety, prosperity and wellbeing of the Indo-Pacific region.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.