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The Health Wrap: Paris climate talks, Innovation statement, Indigenous health recommendations, eliminating HIV and more.

This fortnight’s Health Wrap is compiled by Ellice Mol, the Sax Institute’s Digital Communications Manager. Enjoy the Wrap and tweet us via @SaxInstitute if you have any ideas for future issues.

Paris climate talks

The fortnight began with all eyes focused on the Paris UN Climate Conference. Tens of thousands of Australians took to the streets ahead of the talks calling for action on climate change and uniting on twitter under the trending hashtag #peoplesclimate, Croakey reported.

Health groups also joined the call for action, including the Doctors for Climate Action group, coordinated by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP). The Guardian reported that it was a record breaking day in global activism with more than 600,000 people taking part in the marches worldwide on the eve of the talks.

But after nearly two weeks of negotiations in Paris, the international community was yet to come up with a resolution on climate action at the time of writing.

During the talks last week, Oxfam released a report titled ‘Extreme Carbon Inequality: Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first’. The report found the world’s richest 10 per cent produce half of all emissions while the poorest, who face the brunt of catastrophic climate events, contribute the least, as detailed on Croakey.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced $1 billion to help developing countries fight climate change, aid agencies reacted with disappointment that the money has been scheduled to come out of Australia’s already reduced aid budget, Croakey reported.

“Despite the latest announcement by Prime Minister Turnbull of $1 billion to support climate change adaption, this represents no real increase and is not enough. New commitments must be made that reflect the enormity of the challenges vulnerable countries face and the responsibility Australia has to support the region,” said Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told an Indonesian event on transitioning to a low carbon economy that there is still a long future ahead for fossil fuels and that long-term change would come through as-yet-undiscovered technologies, ABC News reported.

But Australia came under fire as the annual Climate Change Performance Index report, published by Climate Action Network Europe and Germanwatch, ranked Australia third last out of fifty eight nations, Radio National Breakfast reported.

Channel 10 presenter Waleed Aly urged our leaders not to walk away on climate change in a segment which aired on The Project on Wednesday night, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Aly raised concerns about the Australian government’s refusal to support an end to fossil fuel subsidies while other countries have supported the move.

*****

What the National Innovation Statement means for research

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced his much anticipated National Innovation and Science Agenda this week, which has been broadly welcomed by the science community, as detailed in this article on The Conversation.

The Government is investing $2.3 billion in new, sustainable funding over 10 years toward research infrastructure, including $1.5 billion for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), as detailed by Minister for Education and Training Senator Simon Birmingham.

Funding will also be spread across multiple initiatives and programs including $200 million to the CSIRO for an innovation fund to help commercialise research, $250 million for an independent Biomedical Translation Fund to assist the commercialisation of biomedical research, $14 million to promote women in science and $127 million for research block grants with greater emphasis on research-industry collaboration.

University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen said while the details had to be fleshed out, the University strongly supported those initiatives that would build better connections between researchers and businesses.

News.com.au reported that Health Minister Sussan Ley said the $250 million for the Biomedical Translation Fund, which had originally been earmarked for the Medical Research Future Fund, would help turn health and medical research into a commercial reality.

“By investing in the early stages of commercialisation, we open the research pipeline from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside,’’ Ms Ley said. “Researchers, clinicians, industry, governments and, especially, patients, will benefit from research ideas succeeding commercially.”

The Government is holding off on its announcement about how the $1.1 billion package will be funded, ABC News reported but Treasurer Scott Morrison told AM he would be announcing the new spending measures in the Mid-year economic and fiscal outlook next week.

*****

Indigenous health

Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda tabled the Social Justice and Native Title Report 2015 this week in Federal Parliament calling for action on the over-representation of Indigenous children and young people in the child protection system, Croakey reported.

The report examines “deep cuts, confusion and anxiety” caused by the Indigenous Advancement Scheme, Western Australian plans to close remote communities, and the Northern Territory’s paperless arrest laws, to name just a few issues. It also outlines 21 recommendations for action.

The Blueprint for Change was also released by the Change the Record coalition last week, with a list of recommendations for a whole-of-government approach to promote community safety and reduce the rates at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come into contact with the criminal justice system, as detailed on Croakey.

A conference on domestic violence prevention has heard that Indigenous women victims are being ‘systematically silenced’ by a broken system and inadequate representation, ABC news reported.

“The responses that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women get when they finally do get up the courage to report that violence are really poor from police and from mainstream services,” Antoinette Braybrook, chief executive of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Service, said.

With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women the fastest growing segment of the prison population and family violence the main driver for child removal, it is no wonder women fear the system, Ms Braybrook told the conference.

Aboriginal Disability Advocates have also warned that disability among Indigenous people in Australia remains largely hidden as Indigenous parents are not seeking help for their disabled children for fear they will be removed, ABC news reported.

In positive news, a program called Our Men Our Healing aims to counter domestic violence among Indigenous people by strengthening, supporting and empowering Aboriginal men through a range of healing services. Healing Foundation CEO Richard Weston wrote about the program’s success on Croakey. The program has led to a reduction in reports of family and domestic violence and women are feeling safer and more supported by the men in their families and communities.

*****

HIV hopes

An infographic by UNAIDS, released to coincide with World AIDS Day, has been developed to explain the Sustainable Development Goal for ending the AIDS epidemic.

However, new findings of an HIV epidemic in Asia, largely driven by the use of mobile dating apps by young gay men, could threaten the United Nation’s goal to end the global AIDS crisis by 2030, reported The Guardian. Adolescents are also more likely to die of AIDS-related deaths because they are less likely to seek treatment, researchers from Unicef and UNAIDS found.

In an article on The Conversation, La Trobe University Research Fellow, Jennifer Power talks about gender inequality as a major factor in HIV infection across the world. Power cites cultural and personal choices that make it difficult for women to use condoms, the most effective, affordable and low-tech way to prevent HIV. In the article she lists the alternatives available to women who find it difficult to negotiate condom use.

In NSW, a landmark clinical trial, launched on World AIDS Day, is designed to reduce new HIV infections to half the present rate within two years and to virtually eliminate HIV transmission by 2020. The EPIC-NSW trial, led by the Kirby Institute, is the first of its kind to combine rapid roll-out with population-level monitoring, the researchers said. HIV-negative people at high risk of HIV infection will receive a daily dose of medication currently being used as a component of standard HIV treatment.

“Rapid enrolment, high coverage and precision targeting are crucial to the success of this trial and if done properly, it will bring about the rapid reduction of HIV transmission in NSW, and the virtual elimination of new HIV infections by 2020,” said Professor David Cooper, Director of the Kirby Institute and Principal Investigator on the trial.

******

Heart Tick flick; long nights and lazy days; and green light for gene editing

The Heart Foundation  has announced it is retiring its iconic “Tick”, after 26 years of the symbol being used to guide healthier food choices. The tick will be phased out in favour of the HSR system which was launched late last year.

 “Since the launch, the HSR (Health Star Rating) system has been well received by food manufacturers (more than 1500 products now carry the HSR) and is becoming sufficiently well established, and understood by shoppers. We feel we can now safely begin to retire the Tick,” said National Heart Foundation CEO Mary Barry.

Croakey writer Amy Coopes reminded us that the Tick had been awarded to some questionable items over the years including pies, frozen pizzas and even McDonalds.

We also learnt this week that sleeping more than nine hours a night, and sitting too much during the day could be a hazardous combination, particularly when added to a lack of exercise, according to new findings to emerge from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study,  as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.

And much was written about the ethics of gene editing ahead of an international summit on the topic held on 3 December. The Conversation published a piece by Julian Savulescu, Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, that listed five reasons we should embrace gene editing research on human embryos.

Another piece on The Conversation suggested that gene editing could open up animal organ transplantation into humans. International leaders in science gave gene editing the green light at the summit but endorsed germline cell editing (eggs, sperm, embryos and other cells that transmit DNA to future generations) for research purposes only.

The scientists’ recommendations are not legally binding and will be revisited on a regular basis, Science News reported. Meanwhile, a study by a separate group of scientists will produce a report on the advisability of germline editing by the end of 2016.

Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:

Ellice Mol is Digital Communications Manger at the Sax Institute, Follow @Saxinstitute or Ellice @eleechimo 

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