Kirby Institute receives $5m in NHMRC grant funding to improve the control of infectious diseases in the Asia-Pacific region

News | Published on 14 Aug 2018

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has today announced $5 million in grant funding across two major Kirby Institute-led projects in the Asia-Pacific region.

The grants, led by Professors Rebecca Guy and John Kaldor, and involving a number of collaborators from UNSW and other research organisations in Australia and internationally, will both tackle important gaps in infectious disease control in our region. 

Professor Guy, Head of the Surveillance Evaluation and Research Program, will lead a Centre for Research Excellence1 focussing on scaling up new point-of-care diagnostic technologies for infectious diseases of global importance, including HIV, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, HPV and STIs. It will take place across 300 primary health care services in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Indonesia. 

Point of Care (POC) tests enable infectious disease testing and treatment to be provided on the same day. In Australia POC tests present an opportunity to shift testing to primary health care, for the immediate benefit of hard-to-reach patients. For people in rural and remote communities, long distances, staff turnover, and social and cultural factors can prevent individuals returning to a clinic for a follow up visit, meaning that infectious diseases can often be left untreated. In the Asia-Pacific, POC tests are recommended, but uptake remains low in many countries, due to a range of other barriers. This project will leverage clinical networks of over 300 primary health care services in the Asia-Pacific region. 

“Our previous work in this area has shown that POC testing in primary care works to improve infectious disease diagnosis in remote Aboriginal communities in Australia, and the CRE collaboration is well placed to scale up this method in other settings in Australia and our region”, said Professor Guy. “This project will break down barriers to treatment access, ultimately leading to major reductions in the associated illnesses, and improvements in the overall health of these communities.”

The Australian Centre for the Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ACE-NTDs)2 will be established and led by Professor John Kaldor, Head of the Public Health Interventions Research Group. The Centre will accelerate the control and the elimination of key neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), focussing on 7 priority countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia. It aims to address the evidence gaps in understanding NTDs in terms of where they occur, and how best to control them at a population level.

“NTDs affect millions of people at the lowest income levels, particularly in rural and remote areas with minimal access to services,” explains Professor Kaldor. “The cycle of disadvantage is worsened due to this disease burden, which can cause chronic morbidity and disability for people in these communities. ACE-NTDs will uncover better ways to track disease and implement and monitor interventions, and will establish Australia as leader in achieving global targets for the control of NTDs.” 

Kirby Institute researchers also received the following individual fellowships: 

  • Dr Louise Causer, Early Career Fellowship for Maximising impact: scaling up new diagnostics for STI control
  • Professor Basil Donovan, Practitioner Fellowship for Sexually transmissible infections: outcomes and interventions
  • Scientia Professor John Kaldor, Research Fellowship for Population health interventions to control infectious diseases and their consequences
  • Professor Lisa Maher, Research Fellowship for Preventing drug-related harms and progressing the elimination of HIV and viral hepatitis in people who inject drugs
  • Dr Marianne Martinello, Early Career Fellowship for Hepatitis C treatment as prevention: Strategies to guide elimination in priority populations
  • Associate Professor Gail Matthews, Career Development Fellowship for Strategies towards control and elimination of viral hepatitis
  • Dr Nicholas Medland, Early Career Fellowship for Elimination of HIV Infection in Vulnerable Populations through Rapid Translation of Research into Treatment as Prevention and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Programs and Clinical Practice.

1Centre for Research Excellence in the accelerated implementation of new point-of-care technology for infectious diseases, led by the Kirby Institute’s Professor Rebecca Guy, will bring together researchers from Flinders University, UNSW Sydney, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, University of Queensland, and Sydney University.
2The Australian Centre for the Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases, led by the Kirby Institute’s Professor John Kaldor, will bring together researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, University of Melbourne, Australian National University, Charles Darwin University, and James Cook University.