An international hub set to bring together researchers fighting current world issues like climate change and infectious disease outbreaks has opened at Griffith University.

The Centre for Environment and Population Health (CEPH) Hub for Global Health Security opened at Griffith’s Nathan campus on July 22, providing a space for international and Australian researchers to collaborate on matters of public health.

The hub aims to improve methods of forecasting major events for better preparedness, from extreme weather and climate change, to Dengue Fever and Ebola outbreaks, mosquito-borne diseases, hand-foot and mouth diseases, diarrhoea and heart diseases.

CEPH Director Professor Cordia Chu said while there was a plethora of research being carried out in these areas internationally, the new initiative would help avoid missed connections.

“The key objective is to build capacity to strategically address priority health security issues with a focus on climate change-related extreme weather events, floods and emerging infectious disease outbreaks,” Professor Chu said.

“Too often there are many different sectors working on important health security issues… however, because they do not work together, they duplicate each other’s work, struggle to identify gaps and resource less effectively.

“The Hub will coordinate a network of international and in-country networks on global health security which can help link the many sectors working on these health issues.”

The CEPH Hub has an Indo-Pacific focus, with the intention of strengthening the capacity of researchers and policy makers in Australia, China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

It includes a multi-office suite housing three country program offices (China, Indonesia, Vietnam), a Risk Communication, Emergency Management and Adapting to Climate Change for Health corner for visiting post-doctoral fellows from the global communities, and a shared training and meeting room with video conferencing facilities to communicate with the global partners.

Important research outcomes

Dr Maria Antonio studied her PhD at the CEPH under Professor Chu and Dr Larry Crump and is a prime example of the type of exceptional research facilitated by the new hub.

The recently graduated PhD candidate focused on the issues of organ trafficking and surrogacy regulation in the Philippines, with her findings and recommendations resulting in policy change in her home country.

“I discovered there was ongoing trafficking for organ removal in the Philippines where brokers came from Turkey, kidney patients came from Israel and paid donors came from Eastern Europe,” Dr Antonio said.

Dr Maria Antonio at her July 2019 graduation.

“They all flew to the Philippines for organ transplants, which were done by a Filipino transplant surgeon in a government hospital.”

She discovered there were existing regulations and policies on anti-trafficking and organ donation, but there were also gaps in those policies and regulations.

In August 2018, Dr Antonio organised a meeting with the Philippine Secretary of Department of Health (DOH), Department of Justice (DOJ), the World Health Organization, the Vatican, Declaration of Istanbul, The Transplant Society and lawmakers in Philippine Congress to discuss her findings and recommendations.

“As a result, the Renal Replacement bill is now being deliberated in Congress to strengthen the organ donation and transplant program and prevent organ trafficking in the country and I am actively participating in the policy advocacy of this bill.”

Dr Antonio also discovered there was no law to regulate surrogacy services in the Philippines and her recommendations have resulted in the the DOH and DOJ drafting a bill to create regulations, which they hope to push to Congress later this year.