Aboriginal youth health boost with major award

Research to tackle the dual challenges of sexually transmitted disease and illicit drug use in Indigenous communities will be boosted with the awarding of a significant fellowship to Flinders University Associate Professor James Ward, one of the nation’s leading Indigenous health researchers.

Associate Professor Ward has received a prestigious Viertel Senior Medical Fellowship, providing $1.25 million over five years to help transform the health of Aboriginal young people.

It will enable the scaling up of research and a national sentinel surveillance network of Aboriginal primary care services.

The award builds on more than two decades of dedication to make a difference in adolescent health outcomes through programs, research, community-led interventions and advocacy; particularly in the areas of sexual health, HIV and alcohol and other drugs.

His research currently involves partnerships with more than 100 Aboriginal communities and is aimed at addressing disparities in health and social outcomes for young Aboriginal people, especially those in regional and remote communities.

Associate Professor Ward said receiving the Viertel Senior Medical Fellowship is one of the greatest achievements of his career.

“It is not only recognition of my many years of research aimed at addressing disparities in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, but also recognition of the generosity and trust of communities across Australia and of my staff and colleagues who have enabled this research.”

“The Viertel Foundation now provides a solid base from which to scale up studies in population and health services research as well as additional studies testing biomedical interventions, all of which are required to address disparity between Aboriginal and non- Indigenous Australians.”

In adolescence, the predominant infections are those of the urogenital tract and blood stream. The fundamental cause is appalling levels of socioeconomic disadvantage combined with epidemiological factors, risk behaviours and health service inefficiencies.

A strength of his work is building on the existing infrastructure in communities as well as the agency, resilience and culture to achieve outcomes that are both effective and beneficial to communities.

The Fellowship will enable several large-scale health service research studies to be scaled up, including a national sentinel surveillance network of Aboriginal primary care services, several national population health studies and new areas involving molecular epidemiology, and a trial to test effectiveness of Neisseria Meningitis B vaccine on prevalence of Neisseria Gonorrhoea and their impact in STI transmission.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robert Saint warmly congratulated Associate Professor Ward on this significant achievement.

“The Fellowship will enable Associate Professor Ward to enhance his innovative research to improve outcomes in areas of sexually transmissible infections and blood borne viruses amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and strengthen the University’s track record in Infection and Immunity” Professor Saint said.

Professor Saint also congratulated clinical haematologist Dr Craig Wallington-Beddoe who was awarded a one-year, $85,000 Viertel clinical investigation scholarship for his research involving blood cancer.

About James Ward

A Pitjantjatjara/Narungga man, Professor Ward is a Matthew Flinders Fellow and Head of the Infectious Diseases Research Program, Aboriginal Health, at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

He has been awarded funding applications totalling $23m since 2013, including $7.14m as Chief Investigator on National Health and Medical Research Council NHMRC-funded grants, and has authored more than 100 publications and has led national research projects in arguably some of the most sensitive areas of Aboriginal health.

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