Research with real-world impact celebrated in Sydney
Research Action Award winners

Researchers focused on making a real-world impact on vaccine safety, maternal and reproductive health, and strengthening the Medicare system have swept the boards at the Sax Institute’s Research Action Awards, presented today in Sydney.

“The commitment of researchers who are passionate about making a tangible difference is critical to improving our health system and individual health outcomes,” said Sax Institute CEO Professor Sally Redman.

“I congratulate our awardees – Associate Professor Kristine Macartney, Dr Kees van Gool and Associate Professor Angela Dawson. Their work is a shining example of how research can help address the issues we face as a society.

“The safety of the vaccines we give to our children, sexual and reproductive healthcare outcomes for women and girls, and improving the equity and efficiency of Medicare are fundamentally important topics − these are three worthy winners.”

The Sax Institute established the Research Action Awards in 2015 to recognise researchers whose work has made a real-world difference to people’s health and wellbeing.

“It is a testament to the culture of health research across Australia that our judges had such a difficult choice in picking this year’s winners,” Professor Redman said.

“The work being done by this expanding pool of talented and determined researchers will benefit the entire Australian community.”

Professor Attila Brungs, Vice Chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney, said UTS was proud to have two researchers among the three 2016 winners.

“Ensuring our research has a real impact on society is a core UTS value and so it is wonderful to see our researchers being rewarded not only for their stellar performance, but also for the positive benefit they bring to society,” Professor Brungs said.

A panel of national and international experts chose the three award winners. They are:

Associate Professor Kristine Macartney, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) – Focus on vaccine safety

Associate Professor Macartney, a paediatrician and infectious disease specialist, has devoted her career to researching the benefits of childhood vaccines and is responsible for a major change in the way vaccine safety is monitored in Australia. From 2017, the AusVaxSafety National Surveillance System – a vaccine monitoring system led by Associate Professor Macartney at NCIRS – will actively monitor the safety of all government-funded vaccines for both children and adults, using real-time reports of patients’ vaccine experiences obtained via SMS or email.

“Vaccines against zoster (shingles), whooping cough (pertussis) and influenza have saved countless people from experiencing severe illness and death – getting the information to persons of all ages about the benefits and risks of vaccines is absolutely crucial. The AusVaxSafety National Surveillance System will greatly assist this because for the first time, we will be continuously monitoring any reactions – or non-reactions – to all vaccines as they are given,” said Associate Professor Macartney.

Dr Kees van Gool, University of Technology Sydney – Strengthening the Extended Medicare Safety Net

Dr van Gool has investigated the Extended Medicare Safety Net since its creation in 2004, with a focus on making it more equitable, sustainable and efficient. His research identified major cost and equity issues with the Safety Net, with the 20% of Australians living in the wealthiest areas receiving 55% of benefits and 43 cents  out of every safety net dollar going towards increased doctor fees. This research was key to the Federal Government introducing caps on certain Safety Net items in 2010, such as varicose vein, hair transplant and IVF procedures. Legislation that would extend caps across all safety net payments is currently before the Senate and Dr van Gool recently secured a three-year grant from the Australian Research Council to re-examine the Safety Net program.

“The cost blowout and unfair distribution of the initial Extended Medicare Safety Net program clearly demonstrates the need for evaluating new healthcare policies to ensure they are equitable, efficient and delivering the best value for taxpayers’ money. Our research had a significant impact, with legislative caps on some of the most over-used items introduced swiftly after publication of our research and legislation to extend these caps before the Senate,” said Dr van Gool.

Associate Professor Angela Dawson, University of Technology Sydney ‒ Equitable maternal and reproductive health for women

More than 600,000 women and girls die worldwide every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and Associate Professor Angela Dawson is focused on addressing this great inequity in health outcomes. Associate Professor Dawson developed a package of sexual and reproductive healthcare guidelines for use in humanitarian crises in the Asia Pacific region, which have now been used by 95 country coordination teams and 4000 national coordinators in the aftermath of humanitarian disasters. Her work has also influenced 23 policy changes at national and provincial levels to better integrate sexual and reproductive healthcare delivery in emergency responses. Associate Professor Dawson was also responsible for the development of the first NSW Health clinical practice guidelines on obstetric care for women with female genital mutilation.

“When there’s a humanitarian crisis, we think of food and water as the first requirements, however, women will still be pregnant and getting pregnant and will be at increased risk of sexual assault and violence,” she said. “My work is the focused making sure sexual and reproductive health care is not forgotten about in a humanitarian crisis. I’m also focused on female genital mutilation, which is sadly more prevalent in Australia than people realise, and my research has led to new guidelines and doctor education to ensure that women and girls who have been victims of FGM get the right care,” said Associate Professor Dawson.

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