Sustainable Development Goals: Australia 10th out of 188

Australia has been ranked 10th out of 188 countries included in an independent analysis of progress made towards the United Nations’ health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since 2000, published in the Lancet. Good progress has been made worldwide particularly in reducing under-5 and neonatal mortality, family planning, and the rollout of universal health care, the analysis reports. However, in areas beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which came to an end in 2015, few inroads have been made. For example, there have been only minimal improvements in hepatitis B incidence rates, while childhood overweight, intimate partner violence, and harmful alcohol consumption have worsened. Using data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors (GBD) study between 1990 and 2015, Professor Stephen Lim from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues estimated the current status of 33 of the 47 health-related SDG-indicators. To enable easier comparison, they created a health-related SDG index (with a rating of 0-100) that combines these 33 health-related indicators to measure progress for 188 countries between 1990 and 2015. Iceland was the top-ranked nation, while Australia came in 10th. The UK ranked 5th, Canada 9th, Germany 15th, USA 28th and New Zealand 30th. The lowest ranks were dominated by African nations. Suicide, alcohol and disasters Australia’s worst-ranked SDG indicators.

Muscle memory forgetful of past training

Despite the beneficial changes in gene expression caused by exercise, after some time off, muscles have little, if any, memory of previous training, according to a study by Swedish researchers published in PLOS Genetics. Exactly how exercise alters skeletal muscle function on a molecular level is poorly understood. In this study, 23 individuals trained one leg for 3 months, and then 9 months later, 12 of the subjects trained both legs. Scientists took skeletal muscle biopsies from both legs before and after both training periods, and sequenced the RNA to reveal gene expression in each sample. When they compared the samples, they saw that muscle cells expressed more than 3000 genes differently in response to exercise – many related to ATP production – and that training changed the expression of 34 new RNAs that may code for proteins. But despite the myriad changes caused by exercise, after 9 months off, no exercise-induced differences in RNA could be detected between the previously trained and untrained legs. The results challenge the common belief of a skeletal muscle memory, where previous training can affect the response to a subsequent training period. It also found training-related changes to the activity of parts of the genome that have unknown functions, which may help scientists to identify new proteins involved in exercise’s health boosting effects.

Sidney Sax Award goes to Prof Heather Yeatman

Professor Heather Yeatman, Head of the School of Health and Society, and Professor in Public and Population Health at the University of Wollongong, has been awarded the Sidney Sax Award by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA). The PHAA gives the award each year to a person who has provided a notable contribution to the protection and promotion of public health, solving public health problems, advancing community awareness of public health measures and advancing the ideals and practice of equity in the provision of health care. Previous winners include Neal Blewett AC, Stephen Leeder AO, Simon Chapman AO, Mike Daube and Nicola Roxon. Professor Yeatman has worked in food and nutrition policy across the spectrum of local, state, national and international levels and has held leadership positions on numerous government and non-government boards and committees, including food standards, complementary medicines, animal welfare, agricultural chemicals and tick criteria. The PHAA also named Dr Melissa Stoneham, deputy director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia, as the Mentor of the Year. The award is made to a senior member of PHAA who has made a significant contribution to mentoring early-career professionals, practitioners and/or students. Its purpose is to formally acknowledge the importance of mentoring in career development and in recognition of the time commitments and other sacrifices that are involved for mentors.

Pathogen-attributed diarrhoea cases underestimated

The number of cases of childhood diarrhoea attributable to pathogens have been substantially underestimated and may be nearly twice as high as previous analysis suggests, according to new research published in the Lancet. The analysis of over 10 000 samples from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, The Gambia, Kenya, Mali, and Mozambique finds that Shigella and rotavirus were the most common infections among children under 5 years old, followed by adenovirus, enterotoxin-producing E coli (ETEC), Cryptosporidium, and Campylobacter. While an oral vaccine for rotavirus exists, the US authors said that the findings highlighted the need for prioritisation of Shigella and ETEC vaccines. Worldwide, diarrhoea remains the second leading cause of death in children under 5 years old, and is associated with approximately half a million deaths per year. The findings came from a reanalysis of samples from the Global Enteric Multicenter Study (GEMS). Previous estimates of the infectious causes of diarrhoea were based on a variety of different detection methods, but this study, for the first time, uses a molecular diagnostic testing method called quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) to test for 32 pathogens. The researchers reanalysed stool samples from 10 608 children with and without diarrhoea obtained from regions in seven countries in Asia (Bangladesh, India and Pakistan) and Africa (The Gambia, Kenya, Mali, and Mozambique). The original GEMS study [1], published in 2013, estimated that 51.5% of childhood diarrhoea cases could be attributed to pathogens but the new reanalysis found the proportion was much higher at 89.3%.


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