COVID-19: nib support for research to boost public health response

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nib has announced it will fund research designed to support officials more quickly develop up-to-date evidence to better inform the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The research is being undertaken by Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden. He is a career development fellow at the University of Newcastle and program manager at Hunter New England (HNE) Health. 

Associate Professor Wolfenden will collaborate with communicable disease expert and HNE Health public health physician, Associate Professor Craig Dalton.

They will work with Cochrane Australia and Cochrane International to access a register of COVID-19 studies.

Associate Professor Wolfenden is the international co-lead of the Cochrane ‘Public Health’ review group.

“This funding from nib will enable us to establish a research team that can take the best Australian and International evidence and apply it locally, nationally and globally,” he said.

"The COVID-19 global health emergency provides new challenges to our communities, and utilising the latest studies to inform best practice across the Hunter New England region – and beyond will deliver the best outcomes for our communities.

“Given the novelty of the virus, early responses to the disease outbreak were based on similar viruses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome),” continued Associate Professor Wolfenden. “However, while COVID-19 is related to these viruses, it is genetically, epidemiologically and clinically distinct.”

The research will seek to build an understanding of the COVID-19 incubation period and how this impacts quarantine.

It will also assess the risk of infection and transmission among healthcare workers, as well as identify the frequency and virus attach rates in schools.

According to Hunter Medical Research Institute director Professor Tom Walley, “COVID-19 has affected communities across the world, so it’s vital that we have the ability to rapidly assess all the available evidence when it comes to translating research into effective health policy and practice.”

“This is a time when we need evidence and research, rather than opinion, to inform our actions,” said Professor Walley. “This work will make the best evidence available quickly to enable clinicians and policy makers to use it for patient benefit.”

nib chief medical officer, Dr Mellissa Naidoo, said the $126,000 research partnership is important given there is still no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19.

“It’s vital that clinicians can access the most up to date research and evidence to inform patient care and community health,” said Dr Naidoo.

“We’re proud to partner with HMRI, in delivering the Fast Facts project, to enable best practice in clinical decision-making and the public health response to COVID. Until a vaccine is available, this project helps put the best evidence available at the fingertips of those looking after the short and long-term health of our community,” she added.

“We already have the expertise at a local level so we can move quickly to start work on the project,” Associate Professor Wolfenden says. “We’ll be working together over the next 6 – 8 months to ensure that the COVID-19 response is produced rapidly to a scientifically rigorous standard.”