EMF supports Thursday Island research

March 2020

EMF research grants have been helping a rural doctor and researcher on Thursday Island to Close the Gap within the Torres Strait Islander community.

Dr Allison Hempenstall is a rural generalist trainee with the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine on Thursday Island, approximately 1000km north of Cairns. She provides primary and emergency care to the Torres Strait Islander community across remote islands through the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service.

Dr Hempenstall is dedicated to public health, tropical medicine and Indigenous health in an effort to Close the Gap, and last year received the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine and Rural Doctors Association of Australia Rural Registrar of the Year Award in recognition of her work.

On average, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples die more than 10 years younger than other Australians. The focus of the 2020 Close the Gap national day of action is partnership – giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a chance to share ownership, responsibility and accountability for current and future generations.

With a commitment to driving change through research, Dr Hempenstall is the principal investigator of the EMF funded Cellulitis Outpatient Antibiotics Study in the Torres (COAST), a project that embodies these values.

Cellulitis is an infection caused when bacteria enters the skin through an ulcer, cut or a scratch or an insect bite, however, it can also occur without visible damage to the skin. It affects people of all ages and is very common in tropical environments.

“Often, patients present to health care facilities in the Torres Strait with cellulitis and are then transported to Thursday Island Hospital for intravenous antibiotics,’’ Dr Hempenstall said.

“This has significant consequences for patients leaving their communities for treatment, and is also very costly for the health service when it has been shown that cellulitis with intravenous antibiotics at home is safe and effective. Our research aims to find out if Torres Strait people with cellulitis can be treated in this way, instead of having to be transported to hospital.”

The EMF supported Dr Hempenstall’s commitment to building local health and research capacity in her community, funding the COAST research project with a $35,000 JumpStart grant. Combined with $35,000 from the Menzies School of Health Research Hot North program, the two grants also helped fund the employment of Pelista Pilot, to compile study data.

Pelista is the first Indigenous Research Assistant with the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, and became a driving force for the COAST study which collected data throughout 2019. She is a strong advocate for change in her community, promoting healthy skin to school children through art and hip-hop music.

Dr Hempenstall said research such as the COAST study is the backbone of change, with promising results so far.

“If the results of the study show that treating cellulitis in the Torres Strait Islander community is safe and effective, it will help reduce unnecessary pressure on the hospital system from potentially preventable admission. We also anticipate that most patients will prefer community treatment.’’


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