October 14 - 20, 2018: Issue 379

$52 million to deliver free meningococcal vaccine to teenagers

The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health
The Australian Government will invest $52 million to protect Australian teenagers against meningococcal, with the launch of a new free national program for 14 to 19 year olds.

Over 1 million teenagers will receive the free meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine, over the next four years. 

It will be added to the National Immunisation Program from April 2019 and provided to students aged 14 to 16 years under a school based program. 

Adolescents aged 15 to 19 years of age, who have not already received the vaccine in school, will be able to receive the vaccine through an ongoing GP based catch up program. 

Meningococcal is a rare but very serious infection that occurs when meningococcal bacteria from the throat or nose invades the body. The consequences are devastating for individuals and their families.

In recent years we have seen a rise in the number of invasive meningococcal disease cases in Australia. In 2017, there were 382 cases reported nationally, compared with 252 cases in 2016 and 182 cases in 2015.

Deaths associated with meningococcal disease have also risen, with 28 deaths in 2017, compared with 11 deaths in 2016 and 12 deaths in 2015.

I am absolutely committed to strengthening Australia’s world-class national vaccination program and urge all Australian parents to have their teenagers vaccinated.

Today’s announcement follows a recommendation from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to list the meningococcal A, C, W and Y vaccine for adolescents. 

The Committee is independent of Government by law and in practice. By law the Federal Government cannot list a new medicine or vaccine without a positive recommendation from PBAC.

Today’s announcement builds on our strong vaccination program. From July 1, every 12 month old in the country is now offered a free ACWY meningococcal vaccine and every mother is given the opportunity to vaccinate against whooping cough with a free vaccine.

Since coming into Government, the Coalition has helped improve the health of Australians by subsidising almost $10 billion worth of new medicines.

Vaccination works and is an effective and safe tool to prevent the spread of many diseases that cause hospitalisation, serious ongoing health conditions and sometimes death.

I encourage everyone to get the facts about immunisation by visiting the Department of Health's website.

All aboard the driverless shuttle

NSW Roads and Maritime Services
The first passengers have ridden on the NSW Driverless Smart Shuttle at Sydney Olympic Park this week, ahead of services starting in the school holidays.

A select group of competition winners from the 2018 Easter Show boarded the vehicle on Olympic Boulevard, opening stage two of the state’s first driverless shuttle trial.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew welcomed the milestone.

“I’m very excited to see passengers on these vehicles. We know self-driving cars will play a major role in the future and that’s the future we’re preparing for right now,” Mr Constance said.

In August 2017 the NSW Government, through the Smart Innovation Centre, joined forces with HMI Technologies, NRMA, Telstra, IAG, Sydney Olympic Park Authority, and now the University of Technology Sydney, to conduct a two-year trial of the state’s first highly automated Shuttle.

“The ultimate goal of this landmark trial is to find the best way to harness the next generation of driverless technology and how to make it work for the people of NSW,” Mr Constance said.

“We want to bring customers along on the journey, giving them the opportunity to experience this technology and respond to the vehicle so we can implement the feedback as we work towards a connected and automated future.”

Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey said it’s a landmark moment for the state.

“We’re on the cusp of optimising our road infrastructure with emerging technologies including driverless vehicles making our roads safer, more efficient and enhancing mobility for customers,” Ms Pavey said.

“Since launching the trial we’ve been working to ensure the Shuttle delivers a safe and comfortable journey, first testing the shuttle’s braking, sensors and communications in the off road environment at Newington Armoury, then after safe and successful operation we progressed testing to public roads around Sydney Olympic Park.” 

The Navya shuttle is considered a level four, highly autonomous vehicle designed to carry up to 12 passengers. It can travel up to 40km/h in autonomous mode with features including front and rear cameras, LIDAR, GPS technology and autonomous emergency brakes.

The shuttle will continue to operate on Olympic Boulevard, with members of the public able to book limited free rides over the coming weeks. Transport for NSW will release these dates on the Smart Innovation Centre and trial partner websites with bookings to be available two days a week, before the trial progresses to stage three in early 2019.

Stage three of the Shuttle trial will focus on servicing parts of the Sydney Olympic Park precinct by testing a variety of uses including transporting office workers, residents and other precinct workers.

“We want to use the trial to help develop the systems that will enable automated vehicles to be connected to our infrastructure, like traffic lights and to our customers through their devices and applications,” Mr Constance said.

This trial is part of a growing portfolio of connected and automated vehicle trials in NSW that are exploring how the technology will improve both the safety and mobility of customers in metropolitan and regional NSW. 

The NSW Government also recently announced two regional automated vehicles trials in Coffs Harbour and Armidale as well as a trial of partially automated vehicle technology on the Sydney Orbital network.

“There is still some way to go before self-driving vehicles become common place on Australian roads, but as a Government we are ready to take the next step,” Ms Pavey said.

To register for a ride visit here

UNSW graduate personifies the spirit of the Invictus Games

by Rachel Packham, UNSW
Benjamin Farinazzo has his sights set on rowing and powerlifting glory after suffering PTSD following military service in East Timor.

UNSW Canberra graduate Ben Farinazzo will be competing in the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney in October.

As a rower and powerlifter, Benjamin Farinazzo is the picture of strength. But as he raises the barbell at this year’s Invictus Games in Sydney, spare a thought for the weight that he’s carried on his shoulders since he served in the military.

Farinazzo, a UNSW Canberra graduate, describes his service in East Timor as the highlight of his military career, but it also left him with psychological scars.

“I had the very fortunate opportunity to work closely with the East Timorese people,” Farinazzo says. “It was such a deep human connection I had with those people.”

Farinazzo was in East Timor in 1999, when the Suai Church massacre occurred. Up to 200 people, seeking refuge in the church were killed by the militia. He had the heart-wrenching task of helping locals, many of them children, find the bodies of their loved ones.

UNSW Canberra graduate Ben Farinazzo during his time serving in the military

“That had a deep emotional impact on me,” he says.

“I knew it did at the time, but I didn’t realise the extent to which it had an impact on me. Of course, I came back and bottled it away and got on with my life, but over time that wound continued to fester, to the point where I tried so hard to block those emotions.

“At the same time, you tend to block the other emotions such as joy and happiness, so you don’t feel anything anymore. That led me to a point where I started to consider what life was all about.”

Eventually, the sleep difficulties, nightmares, mood swings and irritability caught up with him.

“You have all these different strategies that you put in place, but unless you address the root cause of it and seek professional help, it can tear away at you,” he says.

Rock bottom
Farinazzo visited an empathetic doctor, who had her own experience as a veteran in Rwanda. He remained stoic even after the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.

“I was like: ‘Alright, what is the three-step strategy that I need to get on top of this thing?’” he recalls. “And she said: ‘Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that’.

“I said: ‘Well, I guess I’ll just see it as a broken arm or something, I’ll just look after it and get on with life.’

“She said ‘Ben, stop. It’s not like that. It’s more like cancer. If you don’t address this thing properly, you will die from it.’ And that was pretty hard.”

Farinazzo sought help, but he was far from out of the woods. While he was being treated, he had a mountain bike accident and broke his neck and back in several places.

“So, I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death and then I well and truly hit rock bottom.”

Through treatment, Farinazzo learnt that his vulnerability could be his saving grace. His first step to recovery was learning to open himself up to people.

Once he opened up about his battle with mental illness, he learnt that he wasn’t alone. He discovered friends and colleagues who were facing their own battles with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

“It’s amazing that once you start becoming open about it, when you start expressing how you’re genuinely feeling, it gives people the confidence and the courage themselves to be open and to be authentic about how they’re feeling, their emotions and the impact it’s having on their lives,” he says.

As part of his recovery, Farinazzo turned to rowing. When he heard about the Invictus Games, it gave him something to aspire to. He decided once he was capable of being out of hospital for at least 12 months he would submit an expression of interest.

He achieved that milestone at the end of last year.  

“Then the world changed,” he says.

“As soon as I found out that I was part of the potential selection squad, a fantastic opportunity opened up to then join other potential athletes and to compete at the various selection camps.”

Farinazzo was selected to represent Australia in rowing and powerlifting at this year’s Invictus Games, which start on October 20 in Sydney.

The word ‘Invictus’ is Latin for ‘unconquered’, reflecting the story and the spirit of competitors such as Farinazzo.

“In my experience connecting through the healing power of sport has been invaluable,” he says.

Farinazzo’s renewed strength means the weight on his shoulders no longer feels so heavy.

“The spirit of Invictus is about celebrating the unconquerable human spirit and to me that means being able to stand up authentically, being vulnerable and saying ‘this is who I am – faults, smiles and all’,” he says.

“It’s that wonderful feeling of being inspired by such a great community of athletes around you from around Australia, around the world and everyone in the stands. I can’t wait.” 

UNSW Canberra is a Premier Partner and the Official University Partner of Invictus Games Sydney 2018.​ The Games are an international sporting event for wounded, injured and ill veteran and active service personnel, and highlight the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding of those who serve their country.

Study reveals patterns in STEM grades of girls versus boys

by Isabelle Dubach, UNSW
A landmark study of academic grades of 1.6 million students has shown that girls and boys perform very similarly in STEM – including at the top of the class.

A new study, led by UNSW Sydney PhD student Rose O’Dea, has explored patterns in academic grades of 1.6 million students, showing that girls and boys perform very similarly in STEM – including at the top of the class.

The analysis, published today in prestigious journal Nature Communications, casts doubt on the view that there are fewer women in STEM-related jobs because they aren’t as capable in those subjects as men – a notion that has been supported by the concept that gender differences in variability lead to gender gaps in associated fields.

In their meta-analysis, the UNSW researchers compared gender differences in variation of academic grades from over 1.6 million students aged six through to university from all over the world, across 268 different schools and classrooms.

“We combined data from hundreds of studies, and used a method developed by my supervisor to comprehensively test for greater male variability in academic performance,” lead author Rose O’Dea says.

A classroom with more variable grades indicates a bigger gap between high and low performing students, and greater male variability could result in boys outnumbering girls at the top and bottom of the class.

“Greater male variability is an old idea that people have used to claim that there will always be more male geniuses – and fools – in society,” O’Dea says.

The team found that on average, girls’ grades were higher than boys’, and girls’ grades were less variable than boys’.

“We already knew that girls routinely outperform boys at school, and we also expected female grades to be less variable than those of males, so that wasn’t surprising. In fact, our study suggests that these two factors haven’t changed in 80 years,” O’Dea says.

“However, what was most surprising was that both of these gender differences were far larger in non-STEM subjects, like English. In STEM subjects girls and boys received surprisingly similar grades, in both average and variability.”

In other words, the researchers demonstrated that academic STEM achievements of boys and girls are very similar – in fact, the analysis suggests that the top 10% of a class contained equal numbers of girls and boys.

O’Dea says that there are multiple reasons that these figures don’t translate into equivalent participation in STEM jobs later in life.

“Even if men and women have equal abilities, STEM isn’t an equal playing field for women – and so women often go down paths with less male competition.

“For example, we found that the ability overlap between girls and boys is much greater in STEM, and smaller in non-STEM subjects, meaning that there are fewer boys competing with girls in non-STEM subjects.

“So say you're a girl in a class and you're a straight A student. In your math class, you’re surrounded by top-achieving boys, and then in English there's fewer boys that you're competing with, so it can look like non-STEM is an easier option or a safer path.”

Stereotypical societal beliefs about what fields girls are seen to be successful in also play a role.

“Girls are susceptible to conforming to stereotypes in the traditionally male-dominated fields of STEM. Girls who try to succeed in these fields are often hindered by backlash effects,” O’Dea says.

“For example, the stereotype that girls aren’t good at maths actually makes it harder for girls to be good at maths, both because of the way we perceive ourselves and the way other people perceive us. We all have subconscious biases, and there’s a strange phenomenon called stereotype threat, where being reminded of the stereotype connected to your identity can make it harder to defy that stereotype.”

O’Dea says that there’s no simple fix to work on the underrepresentation of women in STEM.

“Science and academia have a lot of structural issues that will take time to fix. However, there’s a lot we can do to encourage girls to perform better at maths – for example, girls tend to do better when they're taught by a woman with a strong maths background, so they can see they can do maths, too.”

Professor Emma Johnston, Dean of Science at UNSW, says a lot needs to be done to encourage girls to choose a STEM path.

"This powerful, evidence-based research has revealed that girls and boys are equally good at STEM subjects. Differential participation in STEM training and STEM careers must therefore be explained by other factors.

“Australia really needs more women to enter, stay, and succeed in STEM areas. We absolutely need to change the structural barriers to gender equality in science, but we must also change the strong negative stereotypes and unconscious biases as well. We must give our girls and women more successful science role models – something grand to aspire to.

“We all need to actively work to close this gap – for example, UNSW’s Women in Maths and Science Champions Program is a unique opportunity to support women who are completing their PhD in UNSW Science. The program focuses on strengthening the cohort’s communication and leadership skills to support their professional careers and their lifelong role of advocacy to inspire women to pursue a career in maths and science.

“The author of this landmark study is a great example – Rose is an incredible role model and her leadership in traditionally male-dominated fields like science and the AFL is inspiring to many girls,” Professor Johnston concludes.

Safety and pollution setting the agenda for maritime allegiances the world over

NSW Roads and Maritime Services
World Maritime Day will be celebrated for the first time this week by NSW boating regulators, marking a cohesive global focus on safety and pollution for the boating community.

Roads and Maritime Services Executive Director Maritime Angus Mitchell said this year’s theme of ‘better shipping for a better future’ was particularly relevant three months after the YM Efficiency shipping container incident in which 81 containers were lost into the ocean off Port Stephens, sparking the continuing clean up of NSW beaches and waterways.

“The recent container incident on the YM Efficiency is an important example how our organisations are involved in managing shipping issues at a local level,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Marking World Maritime Day with fellow maritime regulators and partners to share in recognising the part played in keeping NSW waters clean, protected and safe.

“It is also a time for port cities and maritime organisations to focus on the importance of maritime activities and celebrate the role of the sea and sea travel in the history and lives of our cities.

“World Maritime Day is celebrated in many countries throughout the world as an official United Nations day in the last week of September.

“This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of International Maritime Organisation.

“As a country that is dependent on the sea for transport and shipping, this celebration highlights our collective part part of the global effort to ensure safe and clean waterways.”

Australia is one of 167 countries that agree to safety and pollution regulations, set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London. IMO is the United Nations specialised agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of pollution by ships.

Australia was one of the original 16 founder nation members of the IMO and was one of the first countries to sign up to the United Nations Convention who established the IMO. The Convention on the IMO was adopted on 6 March 1948 at the United Nations Maritime Conference held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Mr Mitchell said NSW Maritime’s role in safety and environmental protection brings the world standards of IMO into NSW waters - standards which Roads and Maritime’s Boating Safety Officers regulate under when out on their patrols each day.

“Our partner organisations here also adhere to these international standards in their respective roles to manage the waterways in NSW or nationally,” he said.

Cheaper medicines for Australian patients

The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health
Australian patients and their families will save money when a mandated price drop kicks in on October 1 on over 226 medicine brands listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The price drops will save consumers and taxpayers more than $344 million, delivering cheaper medicines for patients and more support for listing more new medicines on the PBS. 

The reductions in the price of these medicines is a result of a key reforms put in place by the Liberal National Government. 

By law, pharmaceutical companies must reveal to the Government the prices at which they sell multi-branded PBS medicines to wholesalers and pharmacies.

If the Government is paying a significantly higher price, this is reduced to bring the PBS price closer to the general market price.

Prices will be reduced on a total of 24 medicines, sold as a total of 226 brands.

Common medicines which will be cheaper for general (non-concessional) patients, include:
  • pregabalin: around 200,000 patients per year with neuropathic pain will now pay $33.38 per script, a saving of up to $6.12 per script;
  • valsartan with hydrochlorothiazide: about 4,500 hypertension patients per year will now pay $23.96 per script, a saving of up to $2.18 per script; and
  • dorzolamide: about 1300 glaucoma patients each year will now pay $19.18 for these eye drops, a saving of $3.02 per script.
  • Since coming into Government, the Liberal National Government has helped improve the health of Australians by subsidising almost $10 billion worth of new medicines.
We are currently making on average one new or amended PBS listing per day.

In the Budget we announced our investment of $2.4 billion on new medicines to build on our commitment to guarantee those essential services that all Australians rely on. 

Our commitment to the PBS is rock solid. Together with Medicare, it is a foundation of our world-class health care system.

The full list of medicines is available from the Department of Health’s website.

App delivers life-saving training to community volunteers

NSW State Emergency Services members will have access to life-saving training using a new app, ensuring they have the skills to help their communities in times of need.

The Mobile Assessment App will save significant volunteer time and replace a paper-based system. The app will play a critical role in getting new members out to help their communities in time for the upcoming storm season.

Volunteers will now be assessed as competent and available to assist their community within 24 hours, in areas such as:
  • road crash rescue
  • flood rescue
  • chainsaw operations
  • driving operational vehicles
  • operating communications equipment
  • traffic safety.
Since the app’s first release in 2013, firefighters have completed training in areas such as structural firefighting, road crash rescue, hazardous materials response and emergency medical care.

Minister for Emergency Services Troy Grant said there are more than 9,000 State Emergency Services volunteers that support NSW communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and the skills they need are vast and varied.

“From flood and storm emergencies to road accident rescues and bush searches, our dedicated volunteers deal with a whole raft of trying scenarios that require specialist skills,” said Mr Grant.

“This new world-class training app will enable recently joined SES members to get out in the field quicker, and bolster the skills of existing volunteers so they can better manage a range of emergency situations.”

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.