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Doorstop in Melbourne

Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop in Melbourne announcing $1.5 million for medical research into Buruli ulcer.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Look, thanks very much to Glen, to you, to Jim McCluskey, to Shitij Kapur who’s head of the medical school, to Tim as our chief investigator today. Jane and John are the chief investigators, and of course, to Ella, who’s been a real inspiration for the patient community in Victoria and for young women.

This is the model that any parent would want for their child in terms of how to deal with a challenge in your life and how to have a voice. You don’t have to wait until you’re at university or you’re the head of an august institution or invested with a parliamentary role.

You can make a difference at any time in your life. And that’s Ella’s real message, that yes, it’s Buruli ulcer or Bairnsdale ulcer that she’s taken up, but frankly, this is a young woman who says anybody at any time in life can make a difference.

Now, let’s talk about that difference. I am thrilled today to be able to announce $1.5 million for the university, led by Tim, in terms of research into Buruli ulcer, Bairnsdale ulcer. This is a flesh-eating ulcer which can cause immense pain, have a huge impact on mobility, and requires a very comprehensive antibiotic treatment.

This research is part of the broader National Health and Medical Research Council $20 million round of funding for research partnerships. The University of Melbourne will be the recipient with six of 23 grants, all determined by the National Health and Medical Research Council. And those grants include study into and treatment of chlamydia so a sexually transmitted illness which can have a profound impact on lives.

The work in terms of markers and treatment of lethal breast cancer that John and his team are leading, that is of profound importance. We have other universities with work in terms of motor neuron disease, cerebral palsy which is represented here today, brain cancer. So these things are about saving lives and protecting lives. This research money is about saving lives and protecting lives.

In terms of the Buruli ulcer, we know that my own area, the Mornington Peninsula and parts of Gippsland, along with the area covered by Barwon Health and the Bellarine Peninsula in particular, are deeply affected. Sarah Henderson and Russell Broadbent have been very engaged. What we’ve done, we invited a fast track process to encourage research and ultimately, Tim, this is now your task and responsibility to tell us the source and what will stop, not just limit, but we believe has the potential to stop the transmission of the Buruli ulcer through its bacterial pathway.

If we can do that, Ella and other people like Ella won’t have to suffer this condition. So we’re in that situation where we genuinely have a pathway to stop what can be an agonising and disfiguring condition. To give people that sense of hope and possibility that they will never have to go through what Ella has had to go through. But to both Ella and Tim, we honour you and we thank you. And Tim, I might invite you to speak.


Thanks, Greg. Thank you. I just have a few words, I won’t take up too much time, but I would just say that south-east Australia is one of the few places outside of West Africa where Buruli ulcer is prevalent. This is gives us an obligation, in fact, where we’re well-resourced to try to study and understand this disease.

So it’s a dubious distinction but it gives us a responsibility to do something about it. Australia has a long and distinguished history of work in this area since the causative age when it was first detected. So Mycobacterium ulcerans causes Buruli ulcer, and this was discovered by scientists working at the Alfred Hospital back in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Since that time, Australian scientists, many of them here in this room, have continued to contribute to discovery, and many of the great advances in this field have come from our ability to study the disease in our backyard. As announced, time to take up the next challenge, we can detect it, we can treat it, but now can we stop it? So that’s our challenge and we acutely feel the responsibility that you’ve just articulated, Minister, to try and make a difference.

I just quickly would like to thank a few people here. We are a large team, and while I’m the front-man it’s not just about me. So on behalf of a large team, I’m very pleased to accept the support of the NHMRC. And here I’d like to acknowledge the support of our partners in this project, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, Barwon Health and the Mornington Peninsula Shire.

I’d also like to explicitly acknowledge the support to understand this disease from the Department of Health not just now but over the last decade. So particularly under the leadership of previous Chief Medical Officer Rosemary Lester we developed a lot of the basic understanding on which this current application and proposal is being built.

Finally, I’d also like to acknowledge the leadership and contributions of Professor Paul Johnson. He’s not here today but he has largely led the research agenda around Buruli in Victoria, in south-east Australia, in fact in the world over the last 20 years.

So I acknowledge his contributions. He’s also a leader on this application and will continue to contribute there. Alright, so I think I’ll finish there. I’ll acknowledge the excellent team of scientists that I have the privilege of working with on this application. We’ve taken up the baton and we hope to honour the trust that Ella and the community have placed in us to deliver on this project.


Now Ella, do you want to say anything? Maybe what you’ve tried to achieve and how you’ve done it? Unusual, it’s not a fair thing to do, but she seems so confident.


Well, I’m just at first very, very grateful to the people who have been putting in so much effort to provide a treatment to this ulcer which I and many others have suffered from.


And what was your campaign about?


My campaign was for more money to be going to researching prevention because well, prevention’s the best treatment when it comes to things like this.


Happy to take any questions, perhaps if we start with Buruli ulcer and then move on to other topics. Any of the difficult questions I’ll give to Tim, and any of the really difficult questions I’ll give to Ella.


How hopeful are you that this funding will hopefully find a cure for it?


Basically, we have very high hopes that we can prevent the transmission. Tim and his team already have a strong hypothesis about mosquito-borne transmission. If they can confirm that and then we can eradicate the hotspots, we will be on our way to not just providing a solution for Victoria and Australia, but for the world. Great, thank you very much.

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