A Cairns Hospital doctor has received a national award in recognition of her research that has highlighted the challenges of reporting tropical disease outbreaks in Pacific Island nations.
Dr Rosie Matthews, a medical registrar at Cairns Hospital, received the Barrie Marmion Award at the Australian Society for Infectious Diseases’ annual Scientific Meeting in Perth two weeks ago.
The award is named in honour of Professor Barrie Marmion who made distinguished contributions to the control of infectious diseases, including hepatitis B and Q fever.
It has previously been won by two other Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service researchers.
Dr Matthews led a team of researchers examining outbreaks of mosquito-borne (arboviral) diseases such as chikungunya, Zika, and dengue fever in the vast Pacific Island nation region, which stretches from Papua New Guinea through to French Polynesia.
She said these diseases posed a significant public health threat, accounting for more than 17 per cent of infectious disease cases worldwide, and one million deaths annually.
‘Across Pacific Island countries, outbreaks of these diseases are increasing in frequency and scale,’ she said.
‘However, data about outbreaks is often incomplete, with reports sporadic, delayed, and based solely on monitoring symptoms of patients because of a lack of resources and access to testing kits.
‘The ability to communicate about outbreaks is also very limited.’
She said the team found outbreaks were reported primarily via email chains between health professionals in the region, however the information was not made publicly available.
‘The amount of information that trickles through to the public is very small, and the information that is eventually made available in medical literature is even smaller, which doesn’t help public health decision makers,’ she said.
She said reliable and accurate reporting of this information was also important for the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service, which often treated patients from neighbouring countries.
‘This has a lot of ramifications for us here in Far North Queensland, particularly with international borders re-opening,’ she said.
‘Quite often, disease outbreaks in destinations such as PNG, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu or Fiji are first detected here in Queensland from returned travellers.’
She said the study identified the need for improved communication between different sectors to better understand the emergence, circulation and geographic risks posed by mosquito-borne diseases.
‘We hope the study will guide public health policy makers in the surveillance and management of these outbreaks in Pacific Island nations, which will – in turn – better inform treatment practices on the ground.’
The ASID annual Scientific Meeting is the leading Australasian conference for adult and paediatric infectious disease and clinical microbiology specialists, providing a forum for the exchange of scientific advances in the prevention, diagnosis and management of clinical infectious diseases.