Queensland Health will farewell its Deputy Chief Health Officer and Executive Director of the Communicable Diseases Branch, Dr Sonya Bennett, after she accepted the role of Deputy Chief Medical Officer with the Australian Department of Health, based in Canberra.
Dr Bennett, who joined Queensland Health in 2009, will leave on July 2. Coincidentally, her time has been bookended by pandemic responses, beginning with the H1N1 pandemic and now COVID-19.
Queensland Health’s Director-General Dr John Wakefield congratulated Dr Bennett on her appointment.
“Losing a person of Dr Bennett’s calibre is always disappointing; however this appointment is appropriate recognition for her hard work,” Dr Wakefield said.
“We are indebted to Dr Bennett for her tireless commitment over the past 12 years which has resulted in a long list of positive health outcomes for Queenslanders,” he said.
Dr Wakefield said Dr Bennett’s achievements had made her a hugely respected member of the Department’s leadership team.
“Dr Bennett lives and breathes the values, purpose and principles of the organisation. She leaves a legacy that countless Queenslanders – including myself – are grateful for,” Dr Wakefield said.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young thanked Dr Bennett and said she had played a key role in minimising the impact of COVID-19 in Queensland.
“During the pandemic, Dr Bennett has performed the role of Chief Health Officer on multiple occasions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Dr Young.
“She has made an exceptional contribution to the health of Queenslanders and I am personally grateful for her support during an incredibly challenging past 18 months.”
Dr Bennett said it was with a heavy heart that she was leaving Queensland Health after 12 years, however she looked forward to making a positive health impact at a national level.
“Throughout my time with Queensland Health, I have been passionate about the ongoing work of the Department in driving positive health outcomes for everyone across the state and particularly the role of public health in those outcomes. Sadly, while the faces around me will change, my focus will continue at a Commonwealth level,” Dr Bennett said.
“I’d really like to thank my team here and in the public health units who deserve so much credit.
“This appointment represents an exciting opportunity for me professionally and I look forward to this new chapter of my career.”
Dr Bennett also serves as the Director-General of Navy Health Reserves, and her move to Canberra will enable her to devote further time to this role.
Dr Bennett has had an incredible impact on the health of Queenslanders, including:
- Leading communicable disease incident response including playing a key role during the COVID-19 pandemic response in Queensland and nationally, as Chair of the Communicable Disease Network of Australia.
- Appointed as Queensland’s Chief Human Biosecurity Officer to provide expert advice on issues relating to human biosecurity and communicable diseases.
- Leading the development of Queensland’s Childhood Immunisation Program, where immunisation coverage rates have continued to increase to record levels. This included Queensland becoming the first state to include children under five in its influenza vaccine program and support of regional improvements in vaccination coverage for First Nations children.
- Driving Queensland to become the first state to vaccinate pregnant women for pertussis.
- Supporting the rollout of a PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) pilot program which has been a major breakthrough in the fight against HIV. Dr Bennett also steered the establishment of the Sexual Health Ministerial Advisory Committee.
- Chairing the Steering Committee to introduce a healthcare worker vaccination guideline. This led to the requirement for some prospective Queensland Health staff needing either evidence of vaccination or proof that they are not susceptible to specified vaccine preventable diseases.