Researchers focused on making a real-world impact on vaccine safety, maternal and reproductive health, and strengthening the Medicare system have been honoured at the Sax Institute’s 2016 Research Action Awards.
Vaccine safety expert Associate Professor Kristine Macartney, health policy researcher Associate Professor Kees van Gool and women’s health advocate Associate Professor Angela Dawson were named as the three winners of the awards, which were established in 2015 to recognise researchers whose work has made a real-world difference to health policy and practice, and to people’s health and wellbeing.
“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.
“The winning researchers’ work is a shining example of how research can help address the issues we face as a society.”
Australia leading the way
International guest speaker at the Sydney awards ceremony, Dr Abdul Ghaffar, Executive Director of the WHO Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, said Australia was leading the way globally in terms of the recognition and utilisation of health services research.
“One of the things I have been really struck by and impressed by here is the commitment made by policy makers to use evidence and research to improve policies,” he said. “If there was a ranking in this world, I am sure Australia would be number one.”
Dr Ghaffar urged researchers to spread the word about the work being done in Australia around health services research translation, saying the international community could learn from what was happening here.
Recognising health services research
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy, who presented the winners with their awards, also highlighted the importance of health services research, which he said would help guide future reforms in the way healthcare is delivered in order to meet the “wicked challenges” of our ageing population, the increased prevalence of chronic diseases and increasing healthcare costs.
“Doing things the way we are doing them at the moment is not economically sustainable, and may not be delivering the best health outcomes, but change requires strong evidence,” he said.
Congratulating the winners, Professor Murphy said health service research needed to receive the same recognition as traditional biomedical research.
“This is a really fantastic collection of research and each of these researchers have clearly made considerable impact in their respective areas.”
The winning researchers
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.
Professor Macartney was unable to attend the awards’ ceremony as she was attending a WHO vaccine safety network meeting in Geneva.
Associate Professor Kees van Gool, University of Technology Sydney – Strengthening the Extended Medicare Safety Net
Associate Professor 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 Associate Professor 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 Associate Professor 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.