Humanitarian Award dedicated to HMHB

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Image: Professor John Reeder

Two pioneering Australians, acknowledged for their contribution to end the debilitating disease river blindness, have generously dedicated the prize money from their latest award to Burnet Institute’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) program.

Mark Sullivan and John Reeder were presented with the 2020 Mitchell Humanitarian Award at The Australasian Aid Conference Dinner in Canberra on Tuesday for their navigation of complex drug development pathways to facilitate the availability of better treatments.

Onchocerciasis, or river blindness as it’s better known, is endemic to 31 countries. Caused by worms transmitted by backfly bites, it’s estimated to infect 20 million people, including one million with vision loss.

Professor Reeder, in his role as head of the UN-based Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, and Mr Sullivan, a drug development industry expert, championed the use of the drug moxidectin, which was shown in studies to be more effective than prevailing treatments.

Their advocacy led to moxidectin being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2018 for use in river blindness for patients aged over 12 years.

It was first case of an Australian-sponsored novel drug achieving FDA approval, and the first case of a non-profit organisation achieving approval without a pharmaceutical industry partner.

Image: Mark Sullivan (left) with Burnet Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC

“I’m honoured to receive this award, and particularly honoured to be nominated alongside John. We represent the efforts of our organisations to make this medicine available over a 20-year timespan, work that we are very proud of,” said Mr Sullivan.

Professor Reeder and Mr Sullivan both have close ties to Burnet and understand the importance of Burnet’s research into the major causes of poor maternal, newborn and infant health in PNG, and the benefits that will flow from their $10,000 donation to HMHB.

Professor Reeder is a former Co-Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, and Mr Sullivan is the founder of Medicines Development for Global Health, created to undertake the end-to-end development of drugs for neglected diseases, and the Victorian Australian of the Year for 2019.

Awarded by the Development Policy Centre at The Australian National University, the Mitchell Humanitarian Award is given annually to recognise a contribution to the cause of international development that inspires others, that’s of lasting and significant value, with a link to Australia, and not yet adequately recognised.

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