Professor Elizabeth Elliott
University of Sydney
30 April 2018

In Australia, influenza on average causes 3,500 deaths, about 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 GP consultations each year1

2009 / 2015 | $119,698 / $1,071,347

Using a national inpatient surveillance system, Professor Elizabeth Elliott and a team at University of Sydney, are evaluating and finding ways to improve immunisation. In 2007, Professor Elliott with Professor Peter McIntyre developed the Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance (PAEDS) system, which was rolled out in six tertiary paediatric hospitals across Australia.

‘People underestimate the value of surveillance’, Professor Elliott explained.  ‘It identifies the problem, the extent of that problem, its geographic distribution and trends over time, and the way it is diagnosed and managed differently across Australia.’

‘The other thing about disease surveillance is that it is relatively cheap and quick to activate. Our data often raise questions that need to be addressed by other types of research.’

Pivotal in helping inform public policy during the H1N1 Influenza outbreak in 2009, Professor Elliott responded to an Urgent Call for Research from NHMRC. She used the already established PAEDS system to collect and analyse data of children hospitalised with influenza.

‘As we had this surveillance system set up and running, we were able to respond very quickly to the call and immediately began collecting detailed and timely information,’ Professor Elliott explained.

‘What this demonstrates, above all, is that when you have an existing research mechanism, you’re able to respond quickly and get unique data when an emergency like the flu pandemic arises.

‘That is why it is so important for NHMRC and other funding bodies to fund this type of research' she added.

Following the Urgent Call for Research, which confirmed the value of PAEDS, Professor Elliott is working with a team of paediatricians and nurses across Australia to evaluate and improve immunisation programs for flu and pertussis, using am NHMRC Partnership Projects Grant led by Professor Kristine Maccartney. In 2017, a record-breaking year for flu, PAEDS collected data on >1000 children hospitalised with seasonal influenza, highlighting the huge disease burden. 

Since 1993, Professor Elliott has seen the value of using surveillance to actively monitor rare diseases in children, as Founder and Director of the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit, previously funded by an NHMRC Enabling Grant.

Professor Elliott is a dedicated paediatrician-researcher, now on her third NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship. She knows the value of research in encouraging critical thinking when treating patients, particularly asking if there is enough evidence to support current treatment.

‘The benefit of my Practitioner Fellowship is that it ensures dedicated time for research. It is challenging to get the balance right as patient work can easily take over. Also, it allows me to do research that is immediately relevant and translatable back to clinical practice, service development and clinical health policy,’ she said.

‘NHMRC Funding is crucial for researchers—we just can’t do the work without it.  NHMRC funding is highly competitive but the review process ensures that funded projects are of high quality and relevance.’

1. Newall A, et al. Economic report into the cost of influenza to the Australian health system. March 2007

Featured image Credit
Photo supplied by: Elizabeth Elliott AM FAHMS