I ATTENDED my first protest march in a pram. The introduction of Sunday trading in pubs in the 1960s was something to which my mother strongly objected.
My older sister and I still laugh about the sign she carried on the day. “We want our dad home on Sundays” took on special irony given that our father was a Methodist minister juggling a portfolio of tiny congregations in rural NSW. He was never home on Sundays!
The ability to take a stand — publicly and about almost anything — is something to celebrate in Australia. In the midst of a period of particularly robust public debate across the nation, this week’s MJA InSight reminds us of ways in which Australians have shown leadership in medicine and public health, and are well positioned to do so in the future.
The prominence of Australian researchers and clinicians in melanoma prevention and treatment has been born of necessity in a sunburned country with by far the highest melanoma rates in the world. A recently published “practice-changing” study from Queensland, looking at the risk of developing a second invasive primary melanoma in patients who have already had an encounter with the disease, forms the basis of InSight’s first news story.
Australia provides vital data to inform global efforts in influenza control via the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza. Australian researchers have also been involved in the ongoing debate about the quality of the research that is used worldwide to inform policy and practice in influenza treatment. Given this wealth of expertise, we knew who to call on for our news story about a recent large multinational study on outcomes for hospitalised patients treated with neuraminidase inhibitors that has stirred up some controversy.
On a lighter note, MJA Editor-in-Chief Stephen Leeder is in fine form in InSight this week, with an exhortation that Australians should literally stand up for themselves. As the evidence mounts about the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting, he has some practical advice on how those in sedentary occupations should respond.
Tuberculosis is not widely regarded as a major threat to Australia’s health but a recent MJA editorial highlighted that it is a formidable problem at our doorstep: the Asia−Pacific region carries 58% of the global TB burden, including 54% of the estimated 680 000 multidrug-resistant (MDR) cases. The authors suggested that: “While ‘ownership’ of the DR-TB response should be in the hands of the countries most affected, Australia is presented with an opportunity to show regional leadership and collaboration, serving a pivotal coordinating function.”
This suggestion, which the authors have taken to Parliament House to mark World TB Day today (24 March), includes strengthening Australia’s commitment to The Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria via our aid budget. It is the subject of another InSight news story.
Their actions may be timely, with a Senate inquiry into Australia's overseas aid and development assistance program due to report its findings later this week
Concern about cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget and the way it will be administered was among the multiple issues that prompted the recent “March in March”. An article published on the health news website Croaky last week has highlighted the health-related concerns that drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets on an early autumn weekend to voice their disquiet.
My sister and I reprised our double protest act with 4000 others in the city of Newcastle on the day. We were a motley crew among whom I was able to identify nurses, dock workers, human rights advocates, environmental activists, families, elderly people, political organisations and the odd confused-looking cyclist who had strayed too far from a nearby triathlon.
As we all shuffled companionably through the city I couldn’t help but take a moment to be grateful to be in a place and a time where ordinary people still have the ability and the will to take a stand.
Dr Ruth Armstrong is the medical editor of MJA InSight.