2019 in Review: January to June

Burnet Institute

20 December, 2019


Sepsis in Papua New Guinea

Image: A collaboration between Burnet and GSK has the potential to dramatically improve neonatal health outcomes in Papua New Guinea.

New collaboration targets newborn sepsis

An exciting new collaboration between Burnet Institute and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) took to the fight to newborn sepsis a leading cause of neonatal mortality in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The joint project aims to improve the uptake of postnatal care services, including the use of chlorhexidine, a topical antiseptic applied to a newborn’s umbilical cord stump in the first week of life.

Chlorhexidine has been shown to be effective in helping to prevent neonatal sepsis in low-income countries such as PNG, where a high proportion of births occur at home with the use of unsterilised instruments.

Burnet Head of International Development, Dr Chris Morgan said the low-cost and easy application of chlorhexidine made it a highly effective intervention for neonatal sepsis.

Australia Day Honours for Burnet staff and associates

Professor Margaret Hellard AM

An appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for Burnet Deputy Director, Professor Margaret Hellard, headlined the 2019 Australia Day Honours for the Institute.

Professor Hellard said she was honoured and delighted to receive her award ‘for significant service to medicine as an infectious diseases and public health physician and research scientist’.

Other Burnet associates to receive honours include Burnet Board member Professor Sharon Lewin AO, and former Board member Mr Ross Cooke OAM, who were acknowledged for their outstanding service to the community and medical research.

Burnet at Midsumma

Burnet at Midsumma

Image: Burnet researchers (L-R) Aaron Osborne, Caitlin Douglass, Maria del Mar Quiroga, Jason Asselin, Erin Davidson, Debra ten Brink, and Kat Ryan

Tens of thousands flocked to Melbourne’s riverside Alexandra Gardens for the 2019 Midsumma Carnival, Victoria’s LGBTQIA+ celebration, where Burnet researchers fielded queries about the institute’s HIV and public health work..


Farewell Mr Robert Milne, welcome Ms Mary Padbury

Robert Milne

Image: Mr Robert Milne retired as Burnet Chair in February.

After almost two decades as a Burnet Director, including four years as Chair, Mr Robert Milne retired from the board, has left a proud legacy of sustained growth for the Institute, accomplished with exceptional leadership.

Mr Milne reflected with modesty on his ‘quiet contribution’ to Burnet’s mission of improving the health outcomes of vulnerable communities in Australia and internationally.

He brought a wealth of corporate experience to Burnet from his background in construction and said one of the “biggest achievements” during his time on the Board was the building of new laboratories and facilities at the Alfred Centre (ACS2).

Mary Padbury Brendan Crabb

Image: Burnet Chair, Ms Mary Padbury and Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC

In February Ms Mary Padbury took the helm, and pledged to do all she can to provide the Institute with the wherewithal to fulfil its mission to achieve better health for vulnerable communities.

A former partner and Global Vice-Chairman of international law firm Ashurst, Ms Padbury is internationally acknowledged as an expert in the field of intellectual property. She is the first female to hold the position of Burnet Chair.

New PNG collaboration

PNG Government and Burnet Institute

Image: Former PNG Secretary of Health, NDoH, Mr Pascoe Kase and Burnet’s Dr Kudakwashe Chani ratify the MoU

Burnet reached a five-year agreement with PNG’s National Department of Health (NDoH) to collaborate and strengthen cooperation in health care and medical science.

A Memorandum of Understanding, signed in Port Moresby, provides for collaborations towards improving health evidence, services and outcomes across a broad range of fields.

Signatory to the MoU, (now former) PNG Secretary of Health, NDoH, Mr Pascoe Kase said: “Burnet has been a long-time partner in PNG. We are very happy to be signing this MoU today.”


International Women’s Day event focuses on young women most-at-risk

IWD 2019

Image: A lighter moment after the event. (L-R) Dr Cassandra Wright, Dr Alisa Pedrana, Gigi Shorten, Chloe Bryce Shorten, Emma Shorten and Dr Megan Lim.

Investing in Young Women Most-At-Risk was the key theme of our International Women’s Day event which attracted a bumper turnout of supporters of Burnet’s work in Young People’s Health.

Keynote speaker, Victoria’s Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People, Ms Liana Buchanan, delivered a stirring speech highlighting the many challenges facing young women in Victoria, especially those most-at-risk and vulnerable.

“For me International Women’s Day serves a dual purpose – it’s a day to celebrate how far we have come and often painfully slow progress towards ending gender inequality … to recognise shifts like particularly here in Victoria where we have recognised not only the extent of family violence but … that family violence at its height is about gender inequality,” Commissioner Buchanan said.

The world’s adolescents – unmet needs, growing inequality

Adolescent health study

Image: The study found significant disease burden among adolescents in Africa, Asia and the Pacific; anaemia in India and obesity in the Pacific to be major health issues.

Burnet’s Dr Peter Azzopardi was lead author on a landmark study, published in The Lancet on global adolescent health.

Today’s adolescents make up the largest generation in history, but the study reveals young people are encountering greater health challenges than those faced 25 years ago, and investments in their wellbeing have not kept pace with population growth.

The global study provided the first comprehensive and integrated snapshot of the health and wellbeing of the 1.8 billion adolescents aged 10-24 who make up a third of the world’s population.

Burnet a learning hub for vital research skills

Dr Evelyn Lavu

Image: Dr Evelyn Lavu (centre) with Burnet staff (L-R), Stephanie Franet, Dr Phil du Cros, Professor James Beeson, Dr Suman Majumdar, Stephanie Main and Sie Phung.

In March Director of the Central Public Health Laboratory at Port Moresby General Hospital, Dr Evelyn Lavu, spent time at Burnet collaborating with the Tuberculosis Elimination and Implementation Science Group as she undertook her PhD.

A senior figure in the country’s TB research community, Dr Lavu is focusing her work on genetics, diagnostics and treatments of drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) in Port Moresby and other parts of PNG.

“I have taken a PhD to learn research methods and skills from experienced people at Burnet, so I can pass that on to our young doctors, and show them the importance of research,” Dr Lavu said.


Federal funding boost to address ‘superbugs’ in Asia-Pacific

A Burnet-led initiative addressing antimicrobial resistance (AMR) received a boost through federal funding.

Burnet Program Director, Health Security, Dr Ben Coghlan said the money would go towards building systems for surveillance of AMR in Kiribati, PNG and Solomon Islands that could also be scaled-up across the Pacific.

“This project will result in reliable, readily actionable local data related to AMR. In time, this will enable these countries to expand to a national AMR surveillance system and improve their responses to address AMR threats,” Dr Coghlan said.

Dr Coghlan said AMR has emerged as one of the greatest health security threats of our time.

Condom use not linked with STI increase among men using PrEP

Mark Stoové on Jon Faine show

(Reproduced courtesy of Jon Faine Program, ABC Radio Melbourne).

A study highlighted by Alfred Health and Burnet Institute research has shown a 20 per cent increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among men using HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in a large Victorian PrEP study, PrEPX.

The findings, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found, somewhat surprisingly, that condom use was not a significant predictor of acquiring an STI when using PrEP, and that STI risk was influenced more by numbers of casual partners and group sex.

Lead author, Burnet PhD student Michael Traeger, said the study findings suggest that STI prevention campaigns should not focus solely on condom use, but also on reducing the time to STI diagnosis and treatment through frequent testing.

Malaria vaccine trial welcomed

The launch of a malaria vaccine pilot program in three African nations has been welcomed as an important milestone by Burnet Institute Head of Malaria Research, Professor James Beeson.

The vaccine, known as RTS,S will be made available to children aged up to two years in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya.

“This is important because we don’t have a vaccine at the moment that we can roll out across populations affected by malaria, particularly targeting children,” Professor Beeson told ABC Television’s News Channel.


MRFF funding for ambitious women’s health project

Gilda Tachedjian

Image: Burnet Institute Head of Life Sciences, Professor Gilda Tachedjian.

A bold and innovative collaborative research project into women’s sexual and reproductive health, led by Burnet Institute’s Professor Gilda Tachedjian, has won a major competitive funding grant to fast track its development from concept to outcome.


The EVE-M (Enhancing the Vaginal Environment and Microbiome) project brings together a multidisciplinary team with ambitious idea of creating a novel device with the potential to regulate the vaginal microbiota over a woman’s lifetime.


Burnet Travel Awards

Travel Awards 2019

Image: Ms Jenny Tatchell presents Eliza Davidson with the Pauline Speedy Biomedical Research Travel Fellowship

Mexico City, Vancouver, Paris, Boston, Baltimore and Prato in Italy were among the destinations of choice for winners of Burnet Institute Travel Awards for 2019, announced by Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC.

Maternity emergency training kicks off in PNG

Maternity Emergency Training Papua New Guinea

Image: 18 midwives will become ‘master trainers’ through the program and return to their provinces to share their knowledge with colleagues

Burnet Institute partnered with the UNFPA Asia-Pacific Regional Office, as well as JHPIEGO and Laerdal Global Health, to provide maternity emergency training for midwives in PNG.

Burnet Institute Project Lead, Professor Caroline Homer AO, said the initial group of 18 midwives were from across PNG’s very rural and remote areas.

“There is good evidence that well trained and supported midwives can save the lives of mothers and babies. This program is based on excellent research – rolling this out in areas of high need like PNG will save lives,” Professor Homer said.

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