Our expert committees
The Australian Government has expert medical and scientific committees that provide advice and guidance during health emergencies. During the COVID-19 pandemic these committees have helped us to manage the unique health challenges we are facing.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee
The role of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) is to protect the health and safety of the nation. It provides advice on national priorities and how best to save and protect lives. This includes providing health and medical advice in a crisis. Australia’s Governments use this information to decide how to respond to health emergencies.
The AHPPC includes all state and territory Chief Health Officers and the Australian Chief Medical Officer chairs the committee. The Australian Government works with states and territories to implement any national response.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the AHPPC has taken on a substantially enhanced role to ensure Australia is equipped to deal with the pandemic. It meets almost daily and reviews the situation in Australia and around the world. AHPPC look at the latest research and the situation in other countries to understand what steps Australia should take to stop the spread of COVID-19.
AHPPC reviews a range of medical and epidemiological factors. In March, the majority of people with COVID-19 in Australia were people who had recently travelled overseas. Because of this, the AHPPC advised Government to consider restricting travellers from all countries.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, AHPPC has directly reported to, and advised, the National Cabinet to inform the response to the pandemic.
AHPPC advice guides the decisions leaders make to protect the community, including the advice, supported by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA), that people should maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from others wherever possible. They advised National Cabinet on how to limit the spread of the virus and how to prepare the health system.
The role of the AHPPC is ongoing – it operates outside of COVID-19. It deals with any health threat related to infectious diseases, the environment and natural and human-made disasters.
Communicable Diseases Network Australia
The Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) helps prevent and control communicable diseases in Australia. Its role is to make sure Australia prepares for and responds to outbreaks and pandemics, such as COVID-19.
A communicable disease spreads from person to person. While the majority of communicable diseases are mild, such as the common cold or a stomach bug, some can be more serious. These serious diseases are made notifiable under law to support a public health response.
The CDNA leads national action on how the public health system can monitor, prevent and control notifiable communicable diseases. This includes when, or before, an outbreak occurs.
It works through the states and territories to ensure our public health workers are ready and have the information to deal with any outbreak. It also works with other countries to prevent and control communicable diseases.
During the COVID-19 pandemic the CDNA has provided advice to AHPPC and developed national guidelines for many areas including:
- advice to AHPPC on risk from travellers returning from overseas countries as the pandemic grew
- response guidelines for public health, including how we confirm someone has COVID-19 and the steps a state or territory public health unit need to take to track down close contacts of a person with COVID-19
- how we mange cases and contacts
- the criteria for releasing a person who has had COVID-19 from isolation
- coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines for outbreaks in correctional and detention settings
- coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines for outbreaks in residential care facilities
The CDNA updates the national guidelines for these areas and many more based on the latest evidence and research from around the world. In addition to the guidelines above, CDNA has supported development of health advice for:
- health and aged workers
- the hotel and tourism industry
Set up in 1989, the CDNA includes Australia’s leading communicable disease experts and policy advisors. It is a joint initiative of the National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council.
Infection Control Expert Group
The Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG) advises the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) on infection prevention and control in:
- health care
- aged care
- the community
The ICEG includes practising doctors, nurses and researchers with extensive experience and expertise their fields. They have provided advice on how health and aged care workers can protect themselves and prevent the spread of coronavirus in those settings. This includes guidelines for how to use personal protective equipment to prevent the spread of coronavirus from patient to worker.
Their advice extends to the community too and what people can do in their everyday lives to stop the spread of coronavirus. This has included the advice that people need to:
- stay at home and get tested when unwell with even minor respiratory symptoms or fever
- maintain physical distance from other people in the community
- wash their hands for 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser to breakdown the virus before and after contact with people or frequently touched surfaces
- practise good cough etiquette and respiratory hygiene
The Australian community has been quick to act on this advice to protect themselves and their family and friends. This has meant limited community spread of COVID-19 as well as fewer influenza cases when compared to recent years.
During the COVID-19 pandemic they will continue to provide vital advice based on the latest research from around the world. This will include (but not be limited to):
- the use of masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment
- how to prevent and control COVID-19 in residential aged care settings
- cleaning and disinfection routines
Public Health Laboratory Network
The Public Health Laboratory Network (PHLN) is a national group of expert pathologists and medical laboratory scientists in public health microbiology.
Public health microbiology looks at the microorganisms that cause communicable diseases and how they can be detected and controlled. This information helps to inform public health measures.
The network has representatives from each state and territory as well as expert members including from the:
- World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza
- Australian Federal Police
- Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (formerly the Australian Animal Health Laboratory)
The PHLN advise AHPPC on national laboratory capacity and capability. The PHLN works collaboratively with the CDNA. They monitor the public health laboratory system to identify any gaps or needs. This ensures our medical testing laboratories can respond quickly to significant national outbreaks.
They also advise how existing pathology laboratory resources can be best used for communicable disease surveillance and responses to national outbreaks. PHLN members provide expert advice on testing to regional areas when requested.
The network have been instrumental in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. They have provided guidelines and advice for:
- the best way to collect a sample from a person to test for COVID-19
- the best tests to diagnose COVID-19
- the limits of the COVID-19 tests that are used by doctors and nurses
- testing new ways of detecting COVID-19 including using saliva as a new specimen, to make sure they work
- how to reduce the risk of false positive test results
- the steps laboratory staff need to take to prevent infection from samples in their day-to-day work