HOT NORTH: A community of excellence in tropical medicine

The Australian Government funded HOT NORTH project has hit the ground running in 2017, and is building north Australia’s expertise and capacity in tropical medicine through research projects that will transfer new knowledge to communities.

HOT NORTH is building the north’s tropical health expertise in a way that is making a real difference to the people of the north, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Darwin-based Menzies School of Health Research is leading the project in partnership with James Cook University, Doherty Institute/Melbourne University, Telethon Kids Institute, Marie Bashir Institute/The University of Sydney, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Burnet Institute and the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

HOT NORTH Director, Menzies’s Professor Bart Currie, says bringing these expert institutions together is helping to build “a community of medical researchers and clinicians focussed on the north’s critical health issues”.

“There’s no better place to be than the north if you want to do tropical research and HOT NORTH is helping high-quality medical scientists and clinicians to feel part of a broader movement in the north of Australia,” he says.

Over four years HOT NORTH will fund 12 research projects each year and up to 20 fellowships and scholarships. Already, 12 research grants have been awarded to tackle issues such as antimicrobial resistance and chronic lung, rheumatic heart and vector-borne diseases.

“We are focusing our research so we can fairly quickly translate findings into practical outcomes on issues such as antimicrobial resistance and the concerns about superbugs which are continuing to come into Australia,” Professor Currie says.

“We want to understand where resistant organisms are present geographically across the north, how they are spreading and what can be put in place to reduce that spread.”

HOT NORTH projects will transfer the knowledge gained through research to frontline communities and health workers in every corner of the north, with workshops held or being planned in communities such as Broome, Kununurra, Katherine, Mount Isa and the Torres Strait.

HOT NORTH PhD scholarship researcher Pamela D'Sylva says HOT NORTH funding is supporting the employment of an Aboriginal researcher on her project into life threatening chronic lung disease in Aboriginal children in Western Australia.

“If we can catch this disease early in childhood we can prevent it becoming a very serious illness so our project is being done in partnership with young Aboriginal researchers and communities so they can be part of the solution,” she says.

A quarter of HOT NORTH’s work focuses on the health issues facing our northern neighbours, such as malaria and tuberculosis (TB).

“The saying is that TB anywhere is TB everywhere,” says Professor Currie.

For us, multidrug resistant TB in PNG and links through the Torres Strait are a risk for northern Australia, so we need to be good global partners on the work on TB and of course it will benefit Australians as well.”

Read more at menzies.edu.au.

Image: HOT NORTH researcher Assoc. Professor Steven Tong

Publication 16 October 2017