Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) works to ensure the health and wellbeing of the world's children and the adults they will become; a mission that's advancing with the recent creation of the Melbourne Children's Global Health initiative.

Back in 1973, MCRI made its first steps into the complex and diverse area of global child health when a collaboration – led by MCRI's Professor Ruth Bishop – discovered rotavirus. Since that time, global child health has come to be a major priority for the Institute, as signalled through the launch of Melbourne Children's Global Health (MCGH) in 2018.

The Melbourne Children's Global Health initiative brings together partners MCRI, The Royal Children's Hospital and the University of Melbourne to work with resource-poor countries on improving child and adolescent health through research, public health, education and advocacy.

Melbourne Children's Global Health Co-Chair Professor Andrew Steer describes the initiative as a brilliant example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

"This is an exciting time for all of our people to make a tremendous difference to the lives of children and young people around the world," Prof Steer says.

He says the collaboration will also help secure research funding, strengthen their collective standing at international meetings and enable researchers to achieve greater impact through shared information and resources.

The Melbourne Children's Global Health initiative will harness the research and clinical power of the group, which has already achieved life-changing results.

"Solving the many problems of global health requires such close collaborations and partnerships in order to be truly effective."

The rotavirus work that began decades ago, and involved The Royal Children's Hospital and the University of Melbourne, is one example of how collaboration and partnership has always been a part of MCRI's global health story. While rotavirus is now a low-impact disease for Australian babies, that is not the case for babies elsewhere.

In low-resource countries, rotavirus still kills more than 215,000 children aged under-five annually and sends millions more to hospital. Responding to that urgent need, MCRI developed a new vaccine that could be given to babies safely within days of birth.  A vaccine that's safe for newborns addresses early-life risk, and ensures babies from remote areas are protected from the point where they have what may be a rare contact with the health system.

The trial of 1649 Indonesian babies showed the vaccine to be well-tolerated and protective for up to 18 months. It is expected to be available by 2022, potentially saving millions of babies from life-threatening diarrhoea.
Rotavirus was just one of three vaccines that were introduced in Fiji in 2018 following MCRI research. Pneumococcal conjugate, human papilloma virus (HPV) and rotavirus vaccines protect against of a range of common, and sometimes life-threatening, illnesses.

MCRI researchers continue to evaluate the impact of these vaccines with Fijian partners.

Early results show that pneumococcal vaccine effectively halved the number of children carrying the dangerous bacteria, including in babies too young to be vaccinated.

Pneumococcal bacteria are a common cause of meningitis, blood poisoning and pneumonia, and claim the lives of more than 650,000 children worldwide each year.

With just one round of treatment, researchers from MCRI collaborated to knock out two skin diseases in the entire population (26,000+) of Choiseul Province of the Solomon Islands.

The two skin diseases – scabies and impetigo – currently infect hundreds of millions of people, mostly in tropical countries. This work saw an almost 90 per cent reduction in infection rate a year after treatment.

These projects in Indonesia, Fiji and the Solomon Islands represent just some of the work that led to the powerful collaboration that is Melbourne Children's Global Health. As MCGH develops, the initiative has a bold vision for the health of children worldwide.

Co-Chair of Melbourne Children's Global Health Professor Kim Mulholland, whose projects span Fiji, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mongolia, says the initiative will bring together the expertise, knowledge and resources to keep identifying need and delivering health benefits to entire communities, including for local researcher sand clinicians.

"There are not many institutions around the world that could put together this sort of breadth of resources focussed on the needs of children in the poorest circumstances," Prof Mulholland says.

"But that's exactly what Melbourne Children's Global Health has just done."