World Science Day for Peace and Development - Delivering improved outcomes for some of our most vulnerable people

Nov 10 2021

World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the significant role of science in society and the need to engage the broader public in debates on emerging scientific issues. The day also underlines the relevance of science in our daily lives.

This year, World Science Day will highlight the importance of ‘Building Climate-Ready Communities’ and, in this way, connect science more closely with society.

Along with climate change, air pollution from landscape fires (wild, bushfire and prescribed forest fires) has been identified as a major threat to human health (Xu R et al., 2020), accounting for an estimated 340,000 deaths per year.  (Johnston FH et al., 2012).

Vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, pregnant and breastfeeding women with asthma, and their offspring, are at high risk of adverse outcomes following bushfire smoke exposure.

About the ‘Breathing Fire’ Bushfire team

The ‘Breathing Fire’ Bushfire team are part of HMRI’s Viruses, Infections/Immunity, Vaccines and Asthma (VIVA) Research Program and were finalists for this year’s HMRI Foundation, Research Team Award. They’re investigating the health impact of prolonged bushfire smoke exposure on pregnant and breastfeeding women with asthma and adults with severe asthma.

Led by Conjoint Professor Peter Gibson from the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health, Professor Vanessa McDonald, from the University of Newcastle’s School of Nursing and Midwifery,  and Vanessa Murphy from the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health the ‘Breathing Fire’ Bushfire team includes respiratory specialists, respiratory nurses, speech pathologists, psychologists, public health researchers, statisticians, epidemiologists, policy advisors and researchers who specialize in bushfire smoke research. 

The multidisciplinary team have assessed the mitigation strategies that were adopted by vulnerable populations, along with the information sources that they turn to, their use of healthcare and the levels of their psychological distress as it relates to the bushfire period.

They have also examined the impact of bushfire smoke exposure on the levels of toxic elements in breastmilk samples.

Patient-centred approach develops toolkit that works

The team established a consumer reference group (CRG) to better understand the needs of people with asthma during the bushfire period. Working closely with the CRG, health service partners and Australia’s peak consumer and clinician bodies, Asthma Australia and the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, the ‘Breathing Fire’ Bushfire team developed and disseminated clear, effective public messaging aimed at the general community.

The team are now developing evidence-based public health messaging for pregnant and breastfeeding women with asthma during the bushfire period. 

The findings from the team’s project will inform consistent public health advice and enhance bushfire preparedness, responses, and treatment.

You can check out the tool kit here

Suffer from asthma? The team have developed some great resources for asthmatics and those with respiratory conditions to prepare for the bushfire season.