Backgrounder: What is Melbourne Children’s Global Health? What will we do?

Melbourne Global

Melbourne Children’s Global Health is an initiative to improve the health of children and adolescents in disadvantaged populations globally through partnerships in research, public health, education and advocacy.

The initiative has been created by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics, and the Royal Children’s Hospital under the auspices of the Melbourne Children’s Campus, and with the support of the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Melbourne Children’s Global Health will develop health leaders and improve young lives by:

  • Developing and delivering new vaccines to protect against childhood diseases
  • Evaluating public health interventions for child development and disability, adolescent health and prevention of disease epidemics
  • Improving clinical care in hospitals through education, training and quality improvement
  • Enhancing the capacity of clinicians and educators and researchers from Melbourne and low- and middle-income countries to collaborate.

Melbourne Children’s Global Health will build on the successes of our work with partners in low- and middle-income countries in the past 50 years, including:

  • Discovering the role of rotavirus in deadly diarrhoea and developing a vaccine that can be given at birth, which is being trialled in Indonesia
  • Reducing child deaths from pneumonia globally through comprehensive care programs, trials and guidance on the best vaccines
  • Advising on the use of mass drug administration to eliminate scabies in communities
  • Advocating for the prevention of child tuberculosis
  • Compiling global evidence on adolescent health and wellbeing, including The Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing
  • Reducing newborn and child deaths by around one third in hospitals in Asia and the Pacific through implementation of quality improvement programs.

Many challenges still remain, including:

  • Two million children die annually from pneumonia and diarrhoea before their fifth birthday
  • At least 7.5 million children are infected with TB, and 233,000 die from it each year
  • Adolescents are at the centre of global unemployment, civic unrest, conflict, urbanisation and migration, each of which poses threats to health and wellbeing
  • Forty per cent of all deaths in children under five occur in the first month of life.

Melbourne Children’s Global Health will enhance the ability of our researchers, clinicians, and educators to contribute to global child and adolescent health equity.

  • Bringing our new rotavirus vaccine to more children, faster
  • Speeding up development of new vaccines for example against stomach cancer (Helicobacter pylori), rheumatic heart disease (group A streptococcus), infant bronchiolitis and asthma (respiratory syncytial virus) and typhoid fever
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of vaccine programs
  • Trialling new mental health interventions for adolescents in low- to middle-income nations
  • Developing ways to detect and manage drug-resistant TB
  • Helping to save young lives through training and education support for high quality care in hospitals and health centres.

Melbourne Children’s Global Health will:

Enhance existing projects by

  • Empowering our people to work across campus creating teams with a critical mass
  • Enhancing the capacity of our teams to negotiate and partner with global agencies such as the WHO and GAVI
  • Building stronger long-term links with governments and health agencies in our region
  • Making it easier for our staff and students to work ‘in-country’ by providing processes to contract local staff, make payments, and negotiate permissions with government agencies
  • Creating clearer career paths for young researchers, clinicians and educators seeking to work in global health
  • Enabling more effective advocacy nationally, regionally, and globally.

Develop new projects in

  • Health and wellbeing across the life course
  • Neurodevelopment and disability – creating early intervention programs to transform lives
  • Support for health during conflict and natural disasters
  • Better use of antibiotics and management of drug resistant infections
  • Ensuring health practitioners have access to the best evidence-based care guidelines for common illnesses
  • Clinical training for health professionals from our neighbours
  • Partnerships with regional universities to build capacity in training and research in child health

Equity is a core principle in global health and a central component of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our initiative will contribute to Goal 3, to achieve good health and wellbeing for all children and adolescents. Our work will align with the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent Health 2016–2030.

About our members

Melbourne Children’s Global Health has been established by the Melbourne Children’s Campus Council, the leadership team that guides the Melbourne Children’s Campus of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne.

The Melbourne Children’s Campus is a fully integrated paediatric teaching hospital and research institute which is unique in Australia and acclaimed internationally.

It has three initiatives, each designed to build critical mass and enhance outcomes in key areas of children’s health:

  • The Melbourne Children’s Trials Centre, Australia’s only dedicated clinical trials space for children, funded by philanthropy
  • LifeCourse, a project to unify long-term health studies. It enables access to over 40 studies that span 70,000 people from 0 to 35 years in age
  • Melbourne Children’s Global Health, an initiative to reduce inequity and improve child and adolescent health in disadvantaged populations globally.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is the largest child health research institute in Australia and one of the top five worldwide. Our team of more than 1900 talented researchers is dedicated to making discoveries to prevent and treat childhood conditions. Many of our researchers are also clinicians at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, where the Institute is based. Their research is informed by the problems facing their patients, and when a discovery is made it can be quickly transformed into practical treatments for children in the hospital.

The Royal Children’s Hospital has been providing outstanding care for Victoria’s children and their families for over 140 years. We are the major specialist paediatric hospital in Victoria and our care extends to children from Tasmania, southern New South Wales and other states around Australia and overseas. With a passionate, highly skilled and committed staff of close to 4,000, we provide a full range of clinical services, tertiary care and health promotion and prevention programs for children and young people.

The University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics has an established a worldwide reputation for excellence in child and adolescent health. We provide undergraduate and postgraduate education and are involved in clinical care, research leadership, hospital senior management and policy development as well as significant outreach and engagement activities.  We currently have over 65 academic staff (including 21 professors) and 11 professional staff, with a further 325 honorary staff members contributing to the success of our educational, research and engagement endeavours.

New rotavirus vaccine enters manufacturing

Bio Farma, Indonesia’s national vaccine company, is completing a phase 1 trial of a new rotavirus vaccine invented in Melbourne and has started pilot manufacture of the vaccine. Licencing trials are next, followed hopefully by release of the new vaccine in 2021.

The project is the culmination of a 42-year partnership between Melbourne and Gadjah Mada University which started after Ruth Bishop and colleagues found a virus, now known as rotavirus, in babies at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. They showed it was the cause of an acute gastroenteritis that was hospitalising 10,000 Australian children every year and killing more than half a million children worldwide.

The discovery eventually led to vaccines against rotavirus which are saving lives in the West but not yet in many developing countries, in part due to the limitations of the existing vaccines.

The new vaccine is the first rotavirus vaccine that can be given at birth, and the first made without using porcine products (bovine trypsin is used in its manufacture instead of porcine trypsin).

The vaccine was invented by the Melbourne Children’s Global Health team working with Gadjah Mada University.

PT Bio Farma is commercialising the vaccine. Bio Farma was established in 1890 and is a state-owned enterprise that provides all the vaccines on Indonesia’s immunisation schedule. That’s 1.7 billion doses a year. Bio Farma is also a major supplier to UN agencies and global health initiatives, producing, for example, 1.4 billion doses of polio vaccines of which about 20 million are for Indonesian use. The company is based in Bandung, about 100 km east of Jakarta.

TB in adolescents: Melbourne Children’s Global Health guides new WHO roadmap

In 2017, almost one million children fell ill and over 200,000 children under 15 died of tuberculosis, according to the latest WHO Roadmap. The report also identifies a previously underreported challenge, TB in adolescents.

University of Melbourne researcher Ms Kathryn Snow has estimated that about 1.8 million young people develop TB every year comprising

  • 05 million 20 to 24 year olds,
  • 535,000 15 to 19 year olds
  • 192,000 10 to 14 year olds

“But the actual figure could actually be as high as three million,” Kathryn says.

South Asia had the highest number of new cases with 721,000, followed by sub-Saharan Africa with 534,000.

“Now that we have identified the scale of the problem, our next step is to try to understand the potential for targeting preventative measures specifically at young people in countries with intense TB epidemics,” she says.

“Health programs should consider the special needs of young people with TB, which include continuing their education, keeping their jobs and meeting their family responsibilities. These needs can be met by allowing young people to attend appointments at flexible times and by protecting young people’s privacy so that they are not discriminated against at school or at work.”

Melbourne Children’s Global Health will work with partners in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region to develop and evaluate models of care for prevention, detection and treatment of TB infection and disease in adolescents, including of multidrug-resistant TB.

TB links


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