New Aust team to fight disease outbreaks

A new Australian medical strike force will fight disease outbreaks across the Asia-Pacific region, especially following disasters.


More than 100 experts are listed with the Australian Response Masters of Applied Epidemiology (ARM) who can be sent in a rapid response to disaster or disease outbreaks, co-director Dr Tony Stewart said.

Their disciplines vary from general medicine, field epidemiology and scientists to veterinarians, field laboratory technicians, logistics experts and public health officials.

The ARM network is jointly supported by the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales and Melbourne’s Burnet Institute.

ARM will liaise with authorities such as the World Health Organisation and governments to link with local agencies when disease and disaster strike.

“We are particularly focused on Asia and the Pacific, and a lot of infectious diseases break out in this part of the world,” said Dr Stewart, a senior fellow with the Burnet Institute.

“We are not looking to replace the skills that are in those areas, rather to work with networks and people in those regions and provide a surge capacity when it is needed.”

The spread of infectious disease remains a threat despite Australia being declared measles-free this year, Dr Stewart said at ARM’s launch in Melbourne on Monday.

“We are seeing new emerging diseases such as the Middle Eastern Coronavirus (a viral respiratory illness) and old diseases such as malaria and cholera popping up in some places, so there seems to be more of a need now (for the ARM) than there has been in the past. Recent examples include pandemic influenza and the SARS outbreak,” he said.

Fellow co-director Professor Raina MacIntyre said Australia has a responsibility to help control infectious disease as a regional leader and for its own security.