Exploring challenges in global health

Burnet Institute

11 December, 2018

Image: Professor Brendan Crabb addresses the audience at the Government House Public Lecture

Current Major Challenges in Global Health was the theme of a stimulating and well-received public lecture hosted by Victorian Governor and Burnet Institute Patron-in-Chief, the Honourable Linda Dessau AC, at Government House.

Three key themes were explored:

  • maternal and child health by Burnet’s Professor Caroline Homer AO
  • HIV and the need for a cure by Doherty Institute’s Director, Professor Sharon Lewin
  • the global burden of non-communicable diseases by University of Melbourne’s Professor Alan Lopez AC.

Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC moderated a lively forum with all three presenters outlining the importance research plays in meeting future challenges to improve outcomes and affect change in global health.

“We have incredible stories to celebrate in public health, but need ambassadors in the community to share those stories. The job is far from done,” Professor Crabb told the audience that filled the Ballroom.

Watch Professor Caroline Homer’s presentation on Maternal and Child Health.

Professor Homer spoke of the importance of implementation science and factors behind the steady reduction in fertility rates globally, while stressing there are many barriers still to be overcome.

“In the one hour that we will give these talks, 34 women will die childbirth, equating to 300,000 deaths a year,” Professor Homer said.

“That’s the same as 600 A380 jumbo jets going down each year. Imagine what our government and the media would do if two large jets crashed every day or so.

“The tragedy is that 99 percent of these deaths occur in low-to-middle income countries and almost all are preventable.”

Lack of access to modern contraceptives and family planning - Professor Caroline Homer AO

“Half the women who want to access modern contraceptives around the world are able to do so. In Papua New Guinea that number drops to 20 percent,” Professor Homer said.

“Many women can’t plan pregnancies, have limited access to family planning, and often have little choice in the spacing of children.”

Image: (L-R) Professor Crabb, Professor Lewin, Governor Dessau, Mr Tony Howard, Professor Homer, Professor Lopez

Vaccine and cure for HIV needed - Professor Sharon Lewin

Professor Lewin walked the audience through breakthroughs in HIV around the world including U=U and PrEP, and explained the importance of community and barriers such as stigma.

“We have seen some spectacular results with PrEP, but for people living with HIV, treatment is lifelong and there are some side effects,” Professor Lewin said.

“Our hope is that everyone can access treatment but we have a long way to go in some countries.

“For example, in a part of sub-Saharan Africa where we are undertaking a study, there were 1000 new HIV infections every day, that’s more than the yearly average in Australia. That’s mind blowing.

“That’s why a cure and a vaccine for HIV is so desperately needed. People living with HIV in their 20s face decades of HIV treatment and we don’t know the outcomes of that. Will that be sustainable?”

World is getting healthier - Professor Alan Lopez AC

“A study published in The Lancet showed the world is getting healthier. Where once Australia’s average life expectancy was 73 years, women can now expect to reach 85 and men 80 years of age. That’s the 10th best in the world,” Professor Lopez said.

“But in Africa, the rate is much lower, with men reaching just 49 years on average.

“There has also been a massive reduction in child mortality since 1950s when one-in-five children died before the age of five. That has improved enormously. But there are still 5.4 million children under five that still die each year, many from preventable diseases,” Professor Lopez said.

The rise in deaths attributed to non-communicable diseases or “lifestyle diseases” is clearly evident.

“Diabetes is now the 12th highest leading cause of death globally,” Professor Lopez said.

“Non-communicable diseases account for a higher disease burden everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa where HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, and maternal and child health, remain the highest.”

Our thanks to her Excellency, the Governor for her hospitality, generosity and optimism that our major global health challenges can and will be met.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)




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