Shannon Fentiman, the Queensland Minister for Training and Skills Development, will officially open the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine’s (AITHM) new base on Thursday Island today.
The building, adjacent to the Torres Strait Hospital on Victoria Parade, is designed to support research, training and community engagement. It has been funded by the Queensland Government ($6.3M) and James Cook University ($300,000).
“Queensland continues to play a significant role in the research and prevention of tropical disease,” Minister Fentiman said. “Research performed on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait and our other centres has the potential to save the lives of millions across the world.”
JCU Vice Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding said the facility represents a significant step forward in JCU’s mission to build a brighter future for the people of the tropics.
“As a research facility it will support important work in tropical health and medicine and it will enable collaboration with local researchers and practitioners,” Professor Harding said.
“As a study base it will support our students here on Thursday Island and across the Torres Strait – both those who are studying locally, and those who visit to complete placements in nursing, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and physiotherapy.
“And as a community resource it is a venue for meetings and video conferencing, as well as a place to connect with the University.”
AITHM researchers work on issues of relevance to the Torres Strait, including infectious diseases such as tuberculosis; chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity; exploiting the therapeutic properties of tropical organisms including parasites; and controlling the spread of mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as dengue and Zika.
“Having a PC2 lab (physical containment level 2) means that more of that research can be conducted here, and that we can collaborate more readily with researchers and practitioners who are based here in the Torres Strait,” AITHM Director Distinguished Professor Louis Schofield said.
JCU researchers are collaborating with local health professionals on research projects investigating a range of issues including: the prevention and management of chronic disease; the prevalence and potential risk of dementia in Torres Strait communities, and protection against it; tuberculosis infection in the Torres Strait; and the impact of the design and implementation of Torres Strait primary health services on community health knowledge and behaviours.
Through these collaborations, researchers and health professionals are investigating ways in which research findings can be translated into improved health practice and policy to benefit local communities.
Professor Schofield said AITHM is assisted by a highly representative community research advisory group which is providing important guidance in the development of its Torres Strait health research strategy.
“We also have plans underway to launch a research capacity-building program in early 2019 that will provide opportunities for those working in the health sector across the Torres Strait to be mentored as they gain experience in conducting research,” he said.
In addition to the specialist PC2 laboratory the building includes teaching, training, meeting and video conference facilities. These are used by JCU, community groups, and visiting education and training providers. The Torres Strait Regional Authority is one of the many community stakeholders using the facilities for meetings and conferences.
The building provides a base for James Cook University postgraduate research students undertaking field work in the Torres Strait as well as undergraduate students who undertake placements here. It includes bookable accommodation for staff and students working on the Island.
Celebrations at the official opening will include performances by two dance troupes and a local choir.
Professor Harding said the University appreciated the warm welcome Thursday Island gave to staff and students. “We hope you’ll feel equally welcome to drop in and learn more about the centre and the University,” she said.