Healthcare for the ‘missing middle’

Around 100 million Indonesians don’t have health coverage, despite a bold national overhaul in 2014 of Indonesian healthcare aimed at bringing all the historically-fragmented insurance schemes together into the Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional (JKN), or National Health Insurance Programme. Indonesian and Australian researchers want to know how this can be improved.

The scheme sought to capture those who fall through the gaps, to achieve universal health coverage for all by 2019. Referred to as the ‘missing middle,’ they’re the people who aren’t destitute and receiving government help, but are still too poor to afford basic healthcare.

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What’s killing people?

Planning a nation’s health is challenging when you don’t have accurate information on the causes of death.

The Indonesian National Institute for Health Research and Development is working with nine regional universities and the Australian National University to build capacity for a national mortality register.

Credit for banner image: Sanofi Pasteur creative commons

A universal flu vaccine

A broad-spectrum flu vaccine is being developed to give better immunity to seasonal influenza strains and increased protection against future influenza pandemics.

The technology was created by researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide, who set up Gamma Vaccines to commercialise their ideas.

In 2013, Gamma Vaccines signed a three-way development agreement with Bio Farma and SOHO Industri Pharmasi to develop, manufacture, trial, and distribute the vaccine in Indonesia and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

Fishing for food security

Local fishermen in Indonesia are catching less fish. Whatever the reason, it is a significant problem for those who live on small islands in particular, as fish make up about 90 per cent of the protein they eat.

A team of Indonesian and Australian social scientists is looking at how communities adapt to these changes.

Initially, in a pilot project study financed by the Australia Indonesia Centre, the researchers are examining whether there is a link between fishing productivity and feelings of food insecurity in the small islands off Kai Kecil, and if so, whether a weakening of local management of fish populations and a rise in intercommunity conflicts over fish resources play a role.

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Feeding the world, and asking where the wind went

Life on land depends on plants. And every plant balances opening its pores to let in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis; and closing its pores to retain water.

Graham Farquhar’s work has transformed our understanding of photosynthesis.

His models of plant biophysics have been used to understand cells, whole plants, whole forests, and to create new water-efficient wheat varieties.

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Taking autoimmune disease personally

More than 1.2 million Australians have an autoimmune disease. But any two people may experience it very differently, even if their disease has the same name.

Carola is using genetics to fight autoimmune disease. Credit: John Curtin School of Medical Research
Carola is using genetics to fight autoimmune disease. Credit: John Curtin School of Medical Research

Unlike infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases are not passed from person to person. They are our bodies fighting themselves, making every person’s disease unique.

“A lot of clinical trials fail as they treat all patients with a certain ‘disease’ as one big group,” says Professor Carola Vinuesa, from the National Health and Medical Research Council Centre for Research Excellence in Personalised Immunology at The Australian National University.

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Supercharged rice to feed the world

The discovery of C4 photosynthesis at a Brisbane sugar refinery 50 years ago spawned a whole new field of plant biology and is now well on the way to feeding the world.

Professors Bob Furbank and Susanne von Caemmerer are two of the scientists involved in creating ‘supercharged’ rice to feed the world. Credit: James Walsh, ANU
Professors Bob Furbank and Susanne von Caemmerer are two of the scientists involved in creating ‘supercharged’ rice to feed the world.
Credit: James Walsh, ANU

Three billion people rely on rice for survival, but C4 plants like maize and sugarcane grow faster, have higher yields, and are more drought-tolerant.

“C4 plants photosynthesise faster thanks to a biochemical ‘supercharger’ that concentrates CO2 in specialised structures in their leaves,” says Professor Bob Furbank from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis.

“If we can modify rice to use the C4 pathway, instead of C3, we can improve rice production and double its water efficiency.”

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Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Working together, researchers in Japan and Australia are getting better at predicting the areas most at risk from earthquakes.

They are also working together on ways to determine, within seconds of a warning, the scale and likely impact of an earthquake.
Rapid detection and warning systems combined with smart engineering saved many lives in the Great Japanese Earthquake of 2011. But the earthquake and the resulting tsunami were much bigger than geological modelling suggested. The reasons for that might be found in deep history.

Mapping the hazard

Big earthquakes may be separated by centuries or millennia. But earthquake hazard maps are based on information gathered since 1900 when modern seismographs came into use. It’s difficult to model events happening over millennia when you have not got deep historical information. Continue reading Reducing the impact of earthquakes

Australian Academy of Science medals

Harry Messel has been a powerful force in science education—from the Physics Foundation to textbooks and his establishment of International Science Schools. He was awarded the Academy Medal.

Simon McKeon is a prominent business leader and philanthropist who has made extensive contributions to Australian science and innovation including chairing the CSIRO Board and the agenda-setting McKeon report into medical research in Australia. He was awarded the Academy Medal.

The life and death of cells: Jerry Adams has advanced understanding of cancer development, particularly of genes activated by chromosome translocation in lymphomas. By clarifying how the Bcl-2 protein family controls the life and death of cells, he and his colleagues at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have galvanised the development of a promising new class of anti-cancer drugs. Jerry was awarded the 2014 Macfarlane Burnet Medal. Continue reading Australian Academy of Science medals