Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in partnership with the Victorian Government House presented a free public lecture on child health issues at Government House.

The Governor of Victoria, the Honourable Linda Dessau AC and Mr Anthony Howard AM KC hosted the event, which discussed how we can make this the healthiest generation ever, for every child.

The lecture opened with remarks by the Governor Dessau and the Former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, followed by a discussion moderated by Murdoch Children’s Director Professor Kathryn North AC on the current health challenges facing children in Victoria.

Topics included the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging solutions and how we can ensure equity of access to solutions to rare diseases and the ‘silent epidemics’ of allergies, mental health issues and obesity.

The panel speakers were public health expert and Deputy Director of Generation V (GenV) Professor Sharon Goldfeld, Centre for Population Genomics Director Dr Daniel MacArthur and Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan.

“There are some serious health challenges facing children which we must address, including the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dame Quentin Bryce said. “Our children are our future and to better our future, we must invest in theirs.”

Dame Quentin Bryce said the Murdoch Children’s commitment to childhood health was truly inspiring and there was no research institute more capable of addressing the oncoming health issues for our children.  

Professor North said, “Our Victorian children are ranked among the healthiest in the world and our paediatric healthcare system and research is world-leading – but there are silent epidemics that are affecting the future of our children and their long-term health.” 

“One in ten children has allergies, one in five has mental health issues by the time they reach adolescence; one in four children are overweight or obese – and a disproportionate amount of health burdens fall on our most disadvantaged children and families.”

Professor Goldfeld said, “By the time children start school there are three times more developmental inequalities between children who live in the poorest areas and the wealthiest areas – and by the time they finish school those inequalities are even worse.”

She said these were some of the biggest challenges children faced in Australia and they required complex solutions going forward.

Mrs Buchanan said inequality, poverty, climate change and trauma – in particular, trauma that comes from violence, abuse and neglect – were social drivers of poor child health and were often hidden or less acknowledged than other health issues.

“We have to acknowledge that harm to children is a critical public health issue and our service systems are not meeting the needs of children,” she said.

Dr McCarther said genetic disorders such as muscular dystrophy had a disproportionate burden on children and there were no effective therapies for over 95 per cent of these conditions.

“This represents a tremendous opportunity to develop therapies targeted towards these individual disorders, but we need to think about how we can deploy new technologies in a way that is equitable and helps as many children as possible.” 

Watch the full lecture on the Victorian Government House YouTube channel.