Champion of adolescent health A/Prof Melissa Kang receives PHAA NSW Public Health Impact Award

PHAA NSW President Dr Patrick Harris presented the 2019 NSW Public Health Impact Award to Associate Professor Melissa Kang at UTS on 8 July 2020.

Photograph: Catriona Bonfiglioli

A/Professor Kang said she was thrilled to receive the award as it recognised the significance of adolescent health policy, access and innovation.

“I’m thrilled because it shines a light on youth health,” A/Professor Kang told PHAA NSW.  “I’ve been working with young people for almost 30 years and getting traction around young people for their health and well-being has been a struggle,” A/Professor Kang from UTS’s Faculty of Health said.

A/Prof Kang said New South Wales have been taking adolescent health very seriously with improvements in policy, funding, workforce development and accessibility especially for marginalised young people. “There’s a more to be done but compared to other jurisdictions, they’ve been taking it very seriously,” she said.

A/Prof Kang, MBBS (Sydney), MCH (UNSW) and PhD (Sydney), is most widely known as a champion of frank health and sex advice to young people during her long service as the Dolly Doctor (1993-2016) for the teenage girls’ magazine Dolly.

A/Prof Kang is the co-author of Welcome to Your Period, with media personality Yumi Stynes which won the 2020 Book of the Year for Older Children 13+ from the Australian Book Industry Awards.

She has published clinical resources, 100 academic reports, books and book chapters and articles for The Conversation.

A/Prof Kang is one of three UTS staff involved in the Centre for Research Excellence in Adolescent Health led by Prof Katharine Steinbeck at the University of Sydney. A/Prof Kang is working with UTS Faculty of Health Professors Lin Perry and Fiona Brooks and post-doctoral research fellow Daniel Waller.

A/Professor Kang is a Senior Career Medical Officer in Youth Health, Western Sydney Local Health District as well as an Honorary associate in the Department of General Practice, University of Sydney at Westmead.

Further information

A/Professor Kang who graduated in Medicine in 1986, trained in General Practice and has dedicated her career to improving and advocating for young people’s health wellbeing. Her major projects investigated youth access to health care, sexuality, sexual health as well as contributing to policy development, workforce training, research and research capacity building, in NSW, nationally and internationally.

In April 2020, A/Prof Kang and the manager of the Youth Health Service in WSLHD were invited to work on ways to help vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1999 NSW Health developed its Youth Health policy and funded the NSW Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health (CAAH) A/Prof Kang, then at the Adolescent Medical Unit at CHW, was seconded into CAAH as the Education & Training Coordinator until to 2004.

A/Prof Kang founded the Youth Health Forum (YHF) at CAAH which continues today through the Youth Health and Wellbeing Team at the NSW Ministry of Health reaching several hundred youth health and related professionals across 30 regional and rural sites. In 2003, Melissa secured funding from the Transcultural Mental Health Centre to develop the GP Resource Kit, a resource to help GPs engage with young people.

Melissa has been the Chief Investigator on the NSW Health funded studies Access Phase 1 and Access Phase 2 which informed the 2011 – 2016 NSW Health Youth Health policy.

Access 3 involved young people and informed the NSW Youth Health Framework 2017 – 2024. A key finding was the value of dedicated ‘youth health navigators’ to help vulnerable or marginalised young people accessing health.

A/Prof Kang’s work has seen the number of Youth Health Coordinators rise from three across 17 Area Health Services to 15 across each of the fifteen Local Health Districts today.  Other projects have contributed to reduced presentations to emergency departments and used online interventions to improve chlamydia screening.

Melissa has contributed to curriculum development and teaching in adolescent health at the University of Melbourne, 2001-2004, the University of Sydney (2006-2015) and UTS (2019- present). She has supervised to completion several Honours, Masters and one PhD student and currently supervises seven PhD students and one MD student. She has been a Chief Investigator on research grants totally over $3M and Associate Investigator on grants totaling $11M+.

She is currently President of the Board of Directors of the Australian Association for Adolescent Health Ltd (AAAH) and a member of the International Association for Adolescent Health, the Society for Adolescent Health & Medicine (USA), and the Public Health Association of Australia.,

A/Prof Kang is a vocationally registered General Practitioner, an Associate of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

She has worked clinically at Cellblock Youth Health Centre (1994-95), in the Adolescent Medical Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW, 1996-2004), Nepean Sexual Health Clinic (2011-12), and headspace Camperdown (2014-15).

In 2019 she was awarded the Sax Institute Research Action Award in 2019 and the Australasian Sexual Health Alliance Mid-Career Interdisciplinary Achiever Award.

CHETRE secures international and local grants for COVID-19 rapid research response

The health equity research projects will look at the longer-term social dimensions of the pandemic.

Two COVID-19 Rapid Research Grants through the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR)

The Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation (CHETRE) has been successful, with Canadian colleagues, in securing two COVID-19 Rapid Research grants through the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR).

“Although the disease itself is ravaging the health of individuals and populations, the emerging patterns for effects on populations over time are even more disturbing,” says Professor Evelyne de Leeuw from CHETRE and UNSW Medicine. “Some groups seem more affected by the disease and therefore by health flow-on effects than others. But the longer-term socio-economic effects of the pandemic – such as economic downturn, reduction in livelihoods, travel, contact, etc. – make things even worse.”

  • Role of Chief Medical Officers in COVID-19 response

One CIHR project will look at the role of Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), or their equivalents, across states, provinces and territories in Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Australia in taking up scientific advice, framing policies and interventions, and communicating them. The researchers will also roll out population surveys to take stock of popular perceptions of the CMO roles. This project will be undertaken with Professor Patrick Fafard of the Global Strategy Lab at York University and the University of Ottawa.

  • COVID-19 economic strain and effects on health and liveability

The second project will look at the effects of financial hardship on health and liveability and how we can better know who is affected. It will also frame whole-of-government responses to the resulting inequities of COVID-19-related economic strain. It will be jointly run in Canada and Australia by Professor Candace Nykiforuk (University of Alberta) and Professor de Leeuw.

Two local grants
  • Urban planning and respiratory pandemics

Dr Patrick Harris, senior research fellow and acting deputy director at CHETRE, will lead two new projects that have secured funding in Australia. The Healthy Urban Environments (HUE) Collaboratory, at Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise (SPHERE), will fund a project that aims to inform the prevention of respiratory pandemics through urban planning and design practices, guidelines, policies, governance and institutional frameworks.

“COVID-19 requires a multi-level urban planning and design response encompassing policy measures, governance, infrastructure provision, and design features,” says Dr Harris. “Those most vulnerable to infection must be considered primarily, as must unanticipated consequences for the whole population including risk of disadvantage. Fortunately, pandemics over history can inform the response.”

  • Health and related risks associated with informal and unregulated accommodation

Dr Harris is also chief investigator on a project funded by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) which will investigate health and related risks associated with informal and unregulated accommodation, using unique data sets on informal and short-term rental housing markets in major Australian cities. It will also canvass policy options for expanding housing system capacity during health and other emergencies, serving vulnerable populations or essential workers.