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08 Mar 2016

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Debate was fierce about the response to Ebola in Africa and the very real threat of a tuberculosis epidemic hitting Australia at The Next Pandemic, a Convergence Science Network event hosted in partnership with the Doherty Institute at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Monday evening.

Moderated by the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan an expert panel was assembled to tackle the issues including Director of the Doherty Institute, Professor Sharon Lewin; Laureate Professor Peter Doherty; Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Bioethics and Medicine at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, Jeremy Sugarman; 3AW Mornings host, Neil Mitchell AO; Public Health Association of Australia CEO, Michael Moore; and Médecins Sans Frontières Australia President Dr Stewart Condon.

Tensions mounted when Mitchell asked why he should dedicate an hour of his show to tuberculosis if it’s not a local issue.

“I’ve got people who call up my show who can’t get their hips replaced because the waiting lists are so long in our hospitals, why should I care about TB?” he questioned.

Dr Condon said that if nothing were done to control drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) in our neighbouring countries, those patients needing hip replacements would be sharing wards with DR-TB patients.

When discussing the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa the panellists expressed strong opinions about what worked and what didn’t.

The consensus was that the response was inadequate, except in Nigeria, and the World Health Organization had a lot to learn from the experience.

Professor Lewin said if Ebola had broken out in Papua New Guinea or Indonesia, the Australian Government’s contribution would have been completely different.

The event finished on a comforting note – Laureate Professor Doherty assured the audience that the possibility of a pandemic wiping out the entire human population was unlikely.

“The Next Pandemic gave us an opportunity to showcase not only our work and our contribution to pandemic disease, but was also a great way to engage with the broader community, general and scientific media,” Professor Lewin said.

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