Funding increase builds expertise in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research

NHMRC

On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released its annual report card on funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research.

The report card shows funding for research to improve health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has exceeded NHMRC’s target by more than two percentage points of the total funding for health and medical research.

NHMRC’s annual report card on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research funding in 2021 shows that 206 active grants were funded with more than $58 million – 7.09 percent of the Medical Research Endowment Account (MREA).

NHMRC’s initial commitment, made in 2002, was to allocate at least 5 percent of the MREA, the fund used to invest in health and medical research through NHMRC, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and medical research.

The annual report card focuses on the achievements in 2021 against the Road Map 3 Action Plan for 2018-21. NHMRC continues to work with the Principal Committee Indigenous Caucus (PCIC) to implement its Action Plan.

According to the latest report card, public health was the top research area that received Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research funding, with more than $29.3 million spent on 101 public health projects during 2021.

In addition, there were 49 projects in clinical medicine, 47 in health services research and nine in basic research underway.

A major announcement in 2021 was a grant of $10 million over five years to establish the National First Nations Research Network. The Network brings together 91 investigators, the largest cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers assembled, to grow the next generation of research leaders.

NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso AO said the annual report card was an important opportunity to take stock of where NHMRC had made a difference each year.

“The National First Nations Research Network is an enormous advance in building the capacity and capability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research workforce, critical for leadership of research to close the health gap.”

Since NHMRC’s first action plan was endorsed, a milestone achievement has been the development of Road Map 3: A strategic framework for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health through research. Extensive consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research community guided NHMRC on the direction of the sector over the next ten years.

Other key initiatives have included:

  • Revision of ethical guidelines for research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Wide-ranging consultation provided advice on how the values and principles outlined in the guidelines can be put into practice in research.
  • Establishment of the NHMRC Sandra Eades Investigator Grant Award to honour Professor Sandra Eades AO FAHMS FASSA, the first Indigenous medical practitioner to be awarded a Doctor of Philosophy. The Award is given to the top-ranked Indigenous recipient in the Emerging Leadership Category of Investigator Grants. Recipients are: Doctor Phillippa Taberlay, University of Tasmania (2019, inaugural recipient), Associate Professor Luke Burchill, University of Melbourne (2020) and Dr Simon Graham, University of Melbourne (2021).
  • Introduction of NHMRC’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander internship program, providing direct work experience and opportunities, while increasing community and stakeholder relationships.

The annual report card was released on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August) along with NHMRC’s second stage Reconciliation Action Plan.

Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) assist businesses to embed the principles and purpose of reconciliation and provide tangible and substantive benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, increasing economic equity and supporting First Nations’ self-determination.

There are four RAP phases and this is NHMRC’s Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) II, designed to implement reconciliation initiatives.

Professor Kelso said the new Reconciliation Action Plan builds on the considerable progress NHMRC has made since the first NHMRC RAP in 2015.

“In this Reconciliation Action Plan, we take significant further steps to advance reconciliation. We also commit to building accountability and transparency through reporting RAP achievements, challenges and lessons, within and outside NHMRC,” Professor Kelso said.

“I am impressed with how many of NHMRC’s staff have been actively engaged in the development of the RAP, and in embedding reconciliation in the agency’s practice and culture.”

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