Progress

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Today was a huge day in Australian politics. After a brutal, unnecessary and non-binding postal survey, and a round of debate and absurdly long delays and procrastination around amendments, same-sex marriage finally became law. This is such a significant event for so many reasons – not least of which is that it means so many people I love and care deeply about can now marry the people they love, and feel free from judgement. I am so glad this day has come, for them and for the many LGBTIQ kids now and yet to come.

For me personally it was also a significant day, for another much less publicised reason. Today Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that the government would great a national action plan for endometriosis, which aims to improve the lives of women suffering the condition, to boost research, and to raise awareness in the wider community. The announcement included a promise of $160,000 in immediate funding for Professor Grant Montgomery of the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, who is currently researching the genetic component of the condition, and that the Jean Hailes Foundation will make endometriosis the focus of the 2018 Women’s Health Week.

According to the UQ website, Prof Montgomery said he hoped this announcement marked the start of a new era for women with endometriosis.

“There is a critical need for more research into endometriosis,” Professor Montgomery said. “The causes of this debilitating condition are poorly understood and it has been a difficult disease to study. However, we have made excellent progress in the last five years and now is the time to capitalise on this success.

“The combination of advances in genomics, large international genetic studies, better model systems, and ability to analyse large datasets of patient information all provide the catalyst needed to accelerate research progress into endometriosis if backed by appropriate funding.”

While I’m thrilled to see endo being recognised and supported at a federal level, I’m disappointed by a few things. $160,000 is just a drop in the ocean of what’s needed to truly tackle this condition. in 2016, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) allocated more than $14.7 million to asthma research and $64.1 million to diabetes research – yet endometriosis research received just $837,433 (via abc.net.au). Adding $160,000 to the kitty to round it up to an even million is rather pitiful really.

And while Prof Montgomery’s work is certainly deserving of funding, I would be very curious to know how he was chosen as the recipient. According to data available on the NHMRC website, Professor Montgomery received seven grants and/or fellowships worth more than $4.8 million from the NHMRC between 2004 and 2014. Are he and his work the only worthy recipients of funding? Or is it just that there are so few funding applications for endometriosis research (in many years, only one grant was awarded), that the government has to choose someone they are well-known/awarded?

Of the 13 researchers and 29 endometriosis-related projects awarded NHMRC funding between 2000 and 2016, Professor Montgomery is one of four researchers to be awarded multiple times –  the others are Associate Professor Caroline Gargett of Monash University (6 grants/fellowships totalling $3.6 million), Professor Peter Rogers of The University of Melbourne (4 grants/fellowships totalling $3.25 million) and Associate Professor Dale Nyhalt of Queensland University (3 grants/fellowships totalling $1.2 million). I certainly don’t begrudge any of these brilliant scientists the funding that they’re receiving – they undoubtedly need more – but funding will inevitably go to those with the time and resources to apply for grants, and the prestige of being known in their field. What does this mean for those who are time and/or resource poor and still making their way in their field of research? What’s the effect of one already well-awarded researcher being awarded yet more funding at the drop of a hat?

But bigger than these issues, is the fact that such a monumental recognition of this condition was so poorly covered in the media. Only Guardian Australian and Women’s Health Australia covered the announcement to date, as far as I can see. The Jean Hailes Foundation hasn’t issued a Media Release about the announcement as yet. The focus of the day has been on the final debate and ultimate success of the same-sex marriage legislation – and rightly so. But hopefully the government’s national action plan will ultimately bring endometriosis the attention and support it so desperately needs. Let’s hope they’re more than just talk on this one.

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