Department of Health awards $3.28M to Kirby Institute infectious disease research

News | Published on 06 Oct 2022

The Commonwealth Department of Health has awarded a combined $3.28 million towards two Kirby Institute-led projects as part of the government’s Blood Borne Viruses (BBV) and Sexually Transmissible Infections (STI) Research Program.  

$1.63 million was awarded to the REal world Assessment of people living with Chronic Hepatitis B in Australia (REACH-B) Study, which is being led by Professor Gail Matthews, Head of the Kirby Institute’s Therapeutic and Vaccine Research Program. The study will be a longitudinal cohort study of people living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. By following up with people living with HBV over a long period of time, the study aims to better understand the HBV disease spectrum in Australia, assess treatment eligibility and uptake among people living with HBV, and to evaluate novel methods to enhance linkage to care and treatment adherence. 

“Hepatitis B is a chronic condition that affects the liver, but can be managed with antivirals,” says Prof. Matthews. “Whilst new infections with hepatitis B are reduced thanks to a national hepatitis B vaccination program, many people living with hepatitis B in Australia remain undiagnosed and not linked into care. It’s important that we have a comprehensive understanding of the demographics who are impacted by hepatitis B, so that appropriate testing, treatment and care can be delivered to those who need it.” 

A $1.65 million grant was awarded to a project evaluating community-led models of delivering annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Checks, and aims to embed STI and BBV testing in those checks. It is being co-led by the Kirby Institute’s Mr Robert Monaghan and Dr Skye McGregor. While there are some gaps in the delivery of STI and blood borne virus testing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Aboriginal community-controlled health services are using innovative strategies to boost clinic attendance, and comprehensive STI and BBV testing within routine health check.  

A central premise of the project is co-design of strategies to encourage people to attend health services and strategies to enhance uptake of the health check. “We are excited to be working with Aboriginal community-controlled health services to evaluate culturally acceptable incentivised programs to engage people in annual health assessments, and the embedding of STI and BBV testing in the health assessments,” says Mr Monaghan. “Regular testing is a cornerstone of the public health response to minimising the impacts of infectious diseases, so community-led models will encourage more people to get tested in a way that is comfortable for them.”  

“By ensuring that STI and other blood-borne virus testing is integrated in the annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Check program, our aim is to normalise testing and treatment in a timely period, improving health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities,” says Mr Monaghan. 

The Commonwealth Blood Borne Viruses (BBV) and Sexually Transmissible Infections (STI) Research Program funds eligible organisations to undertake innovative blood-borne virus and STI research that enhances the evidence base supporting STI and BBV health policy and practice, and improving health outcomes for people living with or at risk of blood-borne viruses and STIs in Australia.