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The health of Australia’s indigenous population remains a major issue across the country. 

Indigenous Australians experience a disproportionate health burden from infectious diseases, for example, chronic hepatitis B infection (HBV). Rates of liver cancer are amongst the highest reported, and in spite of preventive vaccination programs many young Indigenous people are still being infected.

Research

In a study conducted in the top end of the Northern Territory – the CHARM study – researchers at the Doherty Institute in collaboration with clinical researchers at the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin found that the dominant HBV genotype is a rare genotype (HBV/C4) unique to Australia’s Indigenous population, which probably entered Australia with the first Australians. The ongoing aim of their research is to define the clinical and natural history of chronic HBV infection with this unique genotype. Following on from this initial study, the team have since developed new collaborations with clinicians from James Cook University and the University of Queensland, and have ethics approval to examine HBV infection in Indigenous communities in Northern Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands.

In addition, the Doherty Institute’s epidemiology unit collaborates with researchers, clinicians and policy makers across Australia in addressing the burden of hepatitis B in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. They have been involved in reviewing the epidemiology of hepatitis B, record linkage studies to improve completeness of Indigenous status in notifiable disease surveillance data, and have contributed to policy development regarding vaccination and approaches to blood-borne viruses in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria and nationally.

Another research group from the Doherty Institute is exploring the Indigenous population’s susceptibility to influenza, specifically, whether differences in T cell immunity can explain this.