Prestigious US scholarship for Burnet researcher

A Burnet public health researcher has been awarded a prestigious scholarship, which will allow him to pursue further study and hepatitis C research in the United States.

Burnet Viral Hepatitis Group Research Assistant, Dr Ned Latham, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, which he will use to undertake a Master of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City.

Dr Latham said he was thrilled at the prospect of being able to study in the United States and further his interest in addressing hepatitis C and other infectious diseases in Australia and abroad.

“I’m delighted to be awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, and I feel like I’m in esteemed company when looking at some of the amazing work that other Fulbright Scholars have gone on to do,” Dr Latham said.

“Prior to COVID-19, hepatitis C caused more American deaths every year than the combined total of the other 60 infectious diseases reported to the CDC,” he said.

Dr Latham is hopeful that the work he and colleagues at Burnet have done on hepatitis C notification data will lead to a collaboration with public health teams in New York, to help find ‘missing’ people who may not even be aware of their hepatitis C infection.

“The main thing I’ve been working on recently was a project exploring the ethical, practical and legal issues associated with using hepatitis C notification data to try and find people who have not been treated yet and connect them to care.

“The health department in New York City has done world-leading work in this space,” he said.

Burnet Deputy Director (Programs), Professor Margaret Hellard AM said Dr Latham’s intellect and personal qualities made a positive impression on Burnet colleagues from the outset.

“I was delighted to support his Fulbright application and to hear he was successful,” Professor Hellard said.

“From when he started as an Honours student, it was clear that he was an exceptional talent with a real interest in public health, to improve outcomes for the poor and vulnerable.”

“Ned has values consistent with Burnet’s ethos and mission.”

Longstanding interest in public health

Dr Latham said the systems-level thinking informed by a person-centred ethos was what initially drew him to public health, which he noticed in qualitative interviews he conducted with affected communities on rapid point-of-care hepatitis C tests.

“There’s justifiably a lot of excitement with new technologies and models of care, but it’s also absolutely essential to meaningfully engage with people and affected communities in design and implementation of these innovations, right from the beginning,” he said.

Professor Hellard said this project, undertaken in Dr Latham’s Honours year was exceptional and provided world-first data.

“That work was impactful in providing insights into how to roll out that point-of-care testing in Australia and globally,” she said.

Dr Latham paid tribute to some of his Burnet colleagues and mentors from the Viral Hepatitis Elimination Group, including Professor Hellard, Associate Professor Joseph Doyle, Professor Mark Stoové and Dr Alisa Pedrana, for their mentorship and for accommodating him juggling his work and study at Burnet with clinical work at Alfred Health, and most recently work at the Department of Health.

COVID-19 and the Department of Health

Since November 2020, Dr Latham been working as a Principal Public Health Medical Officer in the COVID-19 Case, Contact and Outbreak Management division of Victoria’s Department of Health.

“I’m part of the team that manages cases in workplaces, mass transit and ports of entry. The role provides support and advice to the contact tracers,” Dr Latham said.

He said working in this role had affirmed the value of a person-centred approach to public health.

“Working for the Department of Health during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the complexities of caring for individuals while also working within larger systems. I think the experience has really reinforced that I want to become a public health physician.”

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