The Office of Northern Australia (ONA) recently announced the commitment of Government funding, over four years, to a wide range of research projects concentrating on the health of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The funding will be channelled to the Menzies School of Health Research, based in Darwin. Menzies, a collaboration of NT government, Charles Darwin University and the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council, will target research through a programme entitled ‘HOT NORTH’, towards a range of health related issues in northern Australia.
HOT NORTH is an ambitious endeavour aiming to develop and nurture knowledge and understanding of the health issues facing the region of northern Australia. Funding will be allocated to academic, laboratory and clinical research. The investigation is to be themed to five key health areas: skin health; respiratory health; antimicrobial resistance; chronic disease; and, vector-borne and emerging diseases.
The ONA sponsored funding will enable scientists and researchers to focus attention on skin and respiratory conditions that are prevalent among younger Indigenous Australians. Conditions that have a high incidence in remote communities such as scabies and staphylococcus, which while not life threatening have the potential to lead to more serious disease, will receive greater attention. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease are major contributors to shorter life expectancy in Indigenous Australians and these will also be a focus of HOT NORTH research efforts. These research initiatives are also anticipated to lead to a better understanding of the complex issues relating to Indigenous health generally.
Significantly, there will be an increased focus on vector-borne infections (particularly mosquito) and emerging diseases. This is due, in part, to relatively recent climatic variations and changes in the travel patterns within a growing population. Research into the prevention and control of dengue fever, yellow fever and malaria will be imported. The HOT NORTH research will also assist to develop improved biosecurity surveillance systems and monitoring programmes.
The programme is designed to improve the delivery of medical support across the policy and facility spectrum. This will include, but not be limited to, disease prevention activities, medical centres, hospitals and particularly clinics located in remote areas.
Research locations will not be restricted to northern Australia. Some projects will be conducted collaboratively with work undertaken with other centres for research excellence, such as James Cook University, the University of Sydney and the Telethon Kids Institute. This has the potential to build the capacity of health services nationally and may be suitable for export.