Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Yesterday I received a tweet from Thomas King, who led me on a journey. During that journey I spoke to Dr Mel Thomson, a biomedical researcher at Deakin University, who, along with Michelle Harvey, an entomologist, is working on a campaign and a project to see medical maggots treat Mycobacterium ulcerans, otherwise known as Bairnsdale ulcer. It turns out that a medical maggot costs about a dollar—who knew—and they need to raise about $9,500 in order to give rise to this trial for treating this disease with these maggots.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of donating to that campaign, and in the process I learnt a lot about Bairnsdale ulcer and the great work that Mel Thomson and her colleagues are undertaking. Bairnsdale ulcer, Mycobacterium ulcerans, is the third largest mycobacterial infection in the world behind TB and leprosy. It is one of the most neglected tropical diseases which exists anywhere in the world. It largely exists in tropical parts of the world, including tropical Australia but, surprisingly, the Bellarine Peninsula, in my electorate, is an area in which this disease is endemic. Sixty cases have been reported in the last year, and Barwon Health tell us that over the last two years we have seen a 50 per cent increase in this disease occurring on the Bellarine Peninsula.
There seems to be a link between the disease appearing in various animals on the peninsula and transmission to humans, which speaks to a larger story. The emerging infectious diseases which we are seeing around the world, the great threat of a pandemic, are all in the space of animal-to-human disease transmission, which means that this is an area on which we need to be doing much more work. The Australian Animal Health Laboratory, which is based in Geelong, is one of the leading research institutions in the world in looking at the transmission of disease from animals to humans. This is an area where we really want to see their role expand and to look not just at animals but at the way in which we can use the work and leverage off it so that these emerging infectious diseases are limited and are able be treated as much as possible.
This disease is a big disease worldwide but has a very local footprint on the Bellarine Peninsula. Whilst there is something squeamish and gory about treating this disease with maggots, the point that Mel makes is that it would be the most cost-effective way of treating this disease. While not being so significant here in Australia, this would be enormously significant in a country like Ghana, where the disease is endemic. I very much urge people to give to this. They need to raise $2,000 more in the next three days.