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A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital

01 Jun 2016

Renewed effort and more funding needed to fight infectious diseases

Eminent scientists, Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty and Professor Sharon Lewin, have called for an increased level of collaboration and more funding for research to fight infectious diseases across the globe.

Speaking at a special Melbourne Press Club briefing today, Patron and namesake of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) – a joint venture between The University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital – Professor Doherty said Zika and Ebola, along with the periodic emergence of novel influenza A viruses, were timely reminders that we need to keep both our public health and research capacity strong.

“Until recently, although the Zika virus has been circulating for some time in the Pacific region, there was no particular concern until the association with high incidence of microcephaly in babies was observed in Brazil,” Professor Doherty said.

“We now know that this virus can cross the placenta and infect the foetus, with significant consequences. Furthermore, there are well-established cases of infected men transmitting the disease sexually.

“Research needs to be proactive, as well as reactive to outbreaks. Ongoing funding and increased global collaboration so as not to duplicate efforts and waste precious resources is crucial to this.”

Director of the Doherty Institute, Professor Lewin, said infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and viral hepatitis still represent a major global public health burden, but Australia had made significant inroads in these areas.

“For example, recent announcements of increasing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) trials for those at risk of acquiring HIV in New South Wales and Victoria is a major step forward for prevention, however we are striving towards having PrEP included on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Currently France is the only country to fully fund this medication,” Professor Lewin said.

“Australia is also contributing significantly to the global elimination of hepatitis C with the recent listing of lifesaving drugs on the PBS.

“But globally, many countries are continuing to struggle to prevent and treat infectious diseases and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is seeking US$13 billion to tackle this.

“Strong investment in global health can significantly bolster international stability and security. Organisations like the Global Fund are crucial in leveraging advances in science and applying innovative solutions that help save lives.”

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