Three Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) researchers have been awarded prestigious Churchill Fellowships that will see them travel the world to gain valuable knowledge and experience they need to advance their research projects in Australia.

-  Dr Daniel Engelman was awarded the Dr Dorothea Sandars Churchill Fellowship to develop best practice approaches for population mapping of scabies and tropical skin diseases. 

 -  Associate Professor Margie Danchin the Bob and June Prickett Churchill Fellowship to improve vaccine and risk communication to optimise COVID-19 and routine vaccine acceptance and uptake. 

-  Professor Angela Morgan the Sir William Kilpatrick Churchill Fellowship to develop a best practice approach to treating child speech disorders.  

Despite international travel not possible at present due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers will be connected with their international counterparts via virtual networking and collaboration events. Once travel restrictions lift, they will have the opportunity to meet them in person.

Dr Engelman, who under the fellowship will travel to the US, Canada, UK, said scabies and impetigo were major problems in Australia, particularly in remote Indigenous communities, and lead to severe infections and kidney and heart disease. 

The Tropical Diseases Research Group at MCRI has developed a highly effective community treatment approach for these skin conditions in several Pacific countries, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Dr Engelman said there was now an opportunity to eliminate scabies as a public health problem in Australia and other countries in the Pacific.

"By visiting international experts, I will develop a framework for scabies disease mapping, working with affected communities to define areas where community treatment can be implemented," he said.
"The potential impact of this project is immense, with transformative benefits for communities. For example, scabies was reduced from 30 per cent to less than 2 per cent with a single treatment round. Multiple treatments could eliminate scabies from these communities."

Associate Professor Danchin, who will visit the US, Canada, UK and Switzerland, said the global community was facing an unprecedented challenge due to COVID-19. 

"With vaccine hesitancy already nominated as one of the top 10 global health threats, extensive communication and engagement by medical professionals, scientists, public health and government leaders will be needed to achieve the target of at least 70 per cent community uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine needed for herd immunity," she said.

"With disruption to routine immunisation services from the COVID-19 pandemic many communities are now also at risk of diseases like measles and uptake of routine vaccines like flu remains a challenge for high risk groups. 

"By learning and acquiring expertise in risk communication and behavioural science used during infectious disease emergencies from leading academic and global public health organisations, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Yale Institute Global Health, WHO and UNICEF, this expertise can be used to optimise uptake of COVID-19 and routine vaccines as well as manage vaccine hesitancy and misinformation in Australia." 

Professor Morgan, who will visit the UK and The Netherlands, said one in 20 children have a speech disorder, which triples the likelihood of poor literacy and educational outcomes and restricted work opportunities.

Professor Morgan said 50 per cent of Australians with a speech disorder also have unmet therapy needs.

"The lack of evidence-based, trial proven therapies and limited exposure to trials training in speech pathology academic programs is a core part of the problem," she said. 

"This fellowship will give me the opportunity to train in new trials approaches and educate a 'trial ready' workforce of next generation speech pathologists to improve the life outcomes of our nation's children."
Churchill Fellowships were awarded to 112 Australians this year.