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Public health specialists on stand by for disasters

Burnet Institute

16 June, 2014

ARM Co-Director, Dr Tony Stewart from Burnet Institute speaking at the launch.

A flying squad of public health specialists has been officially launched, bringing together Australia’s best experts who can rush to emergencies and disasters around the country and the world to stop the spread of infectious disease.

Known as the ARM network (Australian Response Masters of Applied Epidemiology), the group is on standby for emergencies in Australia and for requests from the World Health Organization and other international bodies for response to infectious diseases emergencies around the world.

The network is a collaboration between Burnet Institute, Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra and Sydney’s University of New South Wales (UNSW).

ARM Co-Director Dr Tony Stewart, Burnet Institute Senior Research Fellow and current Chairperson of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network’s Steering Committee, said the international community relies heavily on well-organised networks to maintain a cohort of trained and experienced professionals who can respond at short notice to large public health emergencies.

“Through ARM, we are now able to better match the people with the appropriate skills with requests for assistance from a range of sources,” Dr Stewart said.

The group of specialist epidemiologists sent several experts to respond to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, where they played a key role monitoring community’s health and stopping epidemic-prone disease from spreading and killing more people.

Founded by graduates of Masters of Applied Epidemiology (MAE) program at the ANU, its members include doctors, nurses, veterinarians, scientists and public health officials from around Australia.

Dr Martyn Kirk from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Public Health and Network Co-Director said the aftermath of a disaster can often be a dangerous time.

“People who have suffered one disaster can find themselves caught up in a disease outbreak with disastrous consequences, particularly if water, food and health supplies have been disrupted.”

After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, an outbreak of cholera killed more than 8,000 people.

Co-Director Professor Raina MacIntyre, Head of the UNSW School of Public Health and Community Medicine and Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, said ARM filled a critical gap in Australia’s surge response capacity for infectious diseases outbreaks that cross state and international borders.

“We have many skilled professionals who are willing to deploy in emergencies, but previously had no avenue to do so,” Professor MacIntyre said.

“As Australians we are in a good position to provide leadership in regional infectious disease control, and ARM shows that this can be achieved with goodwill and the in-kind support of the three institutions.”

CLICK HERE to read an article that appeared in the latest World Health Organization Western Pacific Region Journal about the ARM Network.

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Burnet Institute

communications@burnet.edu.au

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