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The Anton Breinl Research Centre for Health System Strengthening (ABRC), a research centre at DTHM, has been researching health systems to improve equity in health care services for underserved populations, particularly rural, remote, Indigenous and tropical populations, and on training a health workforce with appropriate knowledge, attitudes and skills for this purpose.

Researchers have been working together to train an appropriate workforce in methodologies to effectively accomplish health system objectives. Enabled by an NHMRC project grant and an AITHM Capacity-Building Grant, Professor Sarah Larkins has led a team of researchers to understand how quality improvement initiatives in Indigenous primary health care services can be rolled out, and supported on a broader scale through identification of issues that facilitate success and identify interventions that strengthen quality improvement. This project has secured funding, strengthened relationships and collaborations with key partners, and built research capacity amongst emerging Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers. Much of the health systems research currently being undertaken is highly collaborative. The more input from target communities early on in the development of interventions, the more likely they are to be both cost effective and sustainable.

The ABRC continues to work with Queensland Health to roll out a low cost oral health promotion program in rural schools which brings together education and community health services in remote communities to increase access to oral health promotion. The ABRC has also submitted a funding application in collaboration with cancer researchers to establish a network of clinical trials that include remote centres with telemedicine support, which will leverage AITHM and JCU funding support. AITHM is supporting research to evaluate the effectiveness of the telehealth models as they’re rolled out, examining their safety, health outcomes and cost, in a bid to improve the design of the telehealth model.

ABRC researchers are working closely with AITHM’s Health Economics unit, which has played an important role in building capacity in health systems research in north Queensland. Work led by Dr Emily Callander at AITHM, along with Professors Sabe Sabesan and Sarah Larkins investigates the additional impact of healthcare expenditure on access to care, and the compounding effect that high out-of-pocket costs have when combined with low income and poor labour force participation. This research will improve AITHM’s future research capacity, and provide a much needed economic focus to improve public health interventions in northern Australia.

In conjunction with other AITHM researchers, notably Professor Emma McBryde, researchers from the ABRC including Professor Maxine Whittaker, Dr David MacLaren, Dr Karen Carlisle, Professor Sarah Larkins and PhD candidate Mr Humpress Harrington are partnering with Ministries of Health and other partners in Fiji and the Solomon Islands in work to strengthen capacity in implementation research around surveillance and response to communicable diseases.