Boosting Indigenous youth HPV vaccination rates

Efforts to curb high rates of a silent, cancer-causing virus in Indigenous communities has received a major boost with a new program developed to increase uptake of a critical vaccine.

Senator the Hon Malarndirri McCarthy
Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health

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Efforts to curb high rates of a silent, cancer-causing virus in Indigenous communities has received a major boost with a new program developed to increase uptake of a critical vaccine.

The program to boost human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates, using the help of social media, is one of five exceptional Indigenous health research projects funded through this year’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Ideas Grant scheme.

Dr Natalie Strobel of Edith Cowan University (ECU) has been awarded a $970,000 grant to harness the power of social media to boost HPV vaccination rates among Indigenous youth.

A common sexually transmitted infection, HPV often produces no symptoms and is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer, among other cancers.

Prevention through vaccination is the key to overcoming this disparity as there is currently no cure for HPV infection.

NHMRC-funded research at the University of Adelaide found that throat cancers caused by HPV are 15 times higher in young Indigenous Australians than in young non-Indigenous Australians.

The project is one of five medical research projects receiving a total of $7 million funding to help improve health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Dr Strobel, who is a Senior Research Fellow at ECU’s Kurongkurl Katitjin (Centre for Indigenous Australian Education and Research), will work with First Nations communities and researchers to develop engaging health messages about HPV vaccination for young Indigenous Australians.

These important messages will be implemented and amplified by ‘micro-influencers’ on social media in a bid to boost HPV vaccination rates.

Other research NHMRC projects included in today’s announcement: 

  • Dr Hardip Patel from The Australian National University has been awarded more than $2.5 million to use the latest DNA sequencing technologies to generate reference genomes that will open up new opportunities for precision medicine for Indigenous Australians
  • Dr Ashley Farlow from The Australian National University will use his grant of more than $880,000 to identify the genetic basis of chronic kidney disease in people from the Tiwi Islands
  • Dr Kate Anderson from The University of Queensland will use her grant of more than $1.7 million to give First Nations Australian children a say about what is important to their wellbeing, enabling co-design of a wellbeing measure that can be used by decision makers to understand the real impacts of policies and programs
  • Ms Hayley Williams from The University of Queensland has been awarded more than $880,000 to co-design and evaluate a healing program under the leadership of First Nations youth. The support program will address a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour among First Nations youth, who may not have access to such support currently.

The funding announced today is part of a significant $241 million investment in research through NHMRC’s 2022 Ideas Grants scheme.

Ideas Grants support innovative research projects addressing a specific question. The expected outcomes are creative research produced by researchers at all career stages and in any area of health and medical research from discovery to implementation.

Quotes attributable to Senator Malarndirri McCarthy:

“Research funded today will help improve health outcomes for First Australians in a number of projects that are co-designed with people in our communities.

“With no cure yet available for HPV infection, it absolutely is critical to increase the uptake of vaccination rates in young people to prevent the onset of cancer and other illnesses.

“The Albanese Labor Government will work every day to Close the Gap and funding these cutting-edge research projects will be paramount to discovering lasting solutions to health disparities.”

Quotes attributable to NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso AO:

“Today’s grants will fund world-class research with a focus on discovery and innovation through projects that will improve health policy and practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The research will address a range of challenges as it seeks to improve health outcomes for First Nations people, from youth mental health and wellbeing to HPV vaccination rates and the genetic basis of disease.”


Projects funded (in order of application ID):

Chief Investigator

Project Title

Administering Institution

 Funding commitment

Ms Hayley Williams

Healing Spirit, Healing Minds: Co-designed healing program to promote social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

The University of Queensland

$    886,931.50

Dr Kate Anderson

What Matters to First Nations Kids: Co-designing a wellbeing measure for First Nations children aged 5-11 years (WM2K Project)

The University of Queensland

$ 1,779,065.70

Dr Natalie Strobel

Improving HPV vaccine rates for Aboriginal young people through social media

Edith Cowan University

$    974,708.75

Dr Hardip Patel

Indigenous telomere-2-telomere human reference genomes to enable discovery, translation and innovations

Australian National University

$ 2,549,487.00

Dr Ashley Farlow

Genomic medicine for Indigenous Australians

Australian National University

$    885,257.50



$ 7,075,450.45



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