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27 Jul 2015

Doherty Institute designated WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) as a Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis ahead of tomorrow’s World Hepatitis Day.

As one of only four designated Collaborating Centres for Viral Hepatitis located around the world - including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US - the new Centre will be based within the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s (RMH) Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute and will work across a range of activities including surveillance, treatment and prevention initiatives. In addition, it will also develop policy and assist the WHO to implement its Global Health Sector Strategy on the virus.

WHO designation will enable the Doherty Institute to integrate its existing viral hepatitis programs into the global research arena. Working in collaboration with the WHO and other member states, the program at the Doherty Institute will focus on disease pathogenesis; diagnostics; prevention and evaluation of patterns of disease; and treatment responses on a global scale.

This new designation comes as viral hepatitis is increasingly recognised as a public health priority. Around 240 million people are estimated to be living with hepatitis B and 170 million with hepatitis C. In 2013, 1.4 million people worldwide died due to viral hepatitis, equal to the number of deaths caused by HIV. Ninety per cent of these lives are lost due to cirrhosis and liver cancer caused by chronic hepatitis B and C. In Australia, viral hepatitis affects over 450,000 people and is the leading cause of liver cancer - the fastest increasing cause of cancer deaths nationally.

University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, said that with a greater focus on prevention of infection, diagnosis of those affected and access to the highly effective treatments available, most deaths could be prevented, therefore increasing the urgency for developing comprehensive responses.

“This is a tremendous outcome for the Doherty Institute and presents an excellent opportunity to further our work in the area of viral hepatitis research and public health policy at an international level,” said Professor Lewin.

“The Asia-Pacific region has the highest prevalence globally of hepatitis B and we have a range of laboratory, public health and epidemiological programs at the Doherty Institute that in partnership with the WHO Collaborating Centre will make a very big impact for people living with viral hepatitis.”

The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Chief Executive, Dr Gareth Goodier, said the new WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis further cemented Melbourne’s Parkville Precinct as a leader in infectious diseases.

“The establishment of the Centre for Viral Hepatitis builds on the years of work by Dr Ben Cowie and his team at RMH’s VIDRL and Victorian Infectious Diseases Service,” Dr Goodier said.

“As a Collaborating Centre, their work in viral hepatitis will go from strength to strength, which will significantly benefit people living with viral hepatitis globally.”

Victorian Parliamentary Secretary for Medical Research, Frank McGuire, welcomed the Doherty Institute’s designation.

“As a research centre of excellence, the Doherty Institute has the expertise to make a major contribution in the response to viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases,” Mr McGuire said.

“This designation recognises the Doherty Institute as a world leader in infection and immunity and highlights Victoria’s international leadership and world-class innovation.”