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Saving young lives:

A pioneering woman medical scientist receives recognition for her work in saving the lives of millions of babies.
By Motherpedia
Date: October 30 2013
Editor Rating:
newbornbabies

Because of the rotavirus Ruth Bishop found in Melbourne babies in 1973, 10,000 Australian kids won’t go to hospital this year, half a million young lives could be saved every year as the Gates Foundation and GAVI roll out rotavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest 30 countries by 2015 and a new Australian rotavirus vaccine is being trialled in New Zealand and Indonesia.

In 1973, Ruth Bishop, Brian Ruck, Geoffrey Davidson and Ian Holmes at the Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne’s microbiology department found a virus, now known as rotavirus. They showed it was the cause of an acute gastroenteritis that was hospitalising 10,000 Australian children every year and killing more than half a million children worldwide. 

The discovery initiated a life’s work for Ruth - understanding the virus, working out how it spreads and fighting back with treatments and vaccines, advising WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a result, vaccination against “gastro” has been part of the National Immunisation Program for all Australian infants since July 2007. And the number of hospital admissions has dropped by more than 70 per cent.

By 2015, 50 million children in the poorest countries will be vaccinated by GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and their partners, supported by the Gates Foundation. Figures available from Bolivia, the first low-income country to take part in the program, show a drop of about three-quarters of all hospitalisations. 

Ruth is now in her 80s, and an Esteemed Honorary Fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. She won’t be fully satisfied until a new vaccine they’re developing becomes available. It’s intended for newborns, “the only time children in many developing countries are likely to be near a hospital,” she says.

The vaccine is currently being trialled in Indonesia and New Zealand. 

For her work in saving the lives of young children worldwide and inspiring a revolution in public health, Professor Ruth Bishop AO was awarded the 2013 CSL Florey Medal earlier this week, a $50,000 biennial award. The medal honours Australian researchers who have made significant achievements in biomedical science and/or in advancing human health.

Professor Ruth Bishop’s achievements remind us of the power of vaccines to improve the human condition,” says CSL’s Chief Scientist, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson.

“That her discovery was harnessed by two of the world’s leading vaccine companies also shows the important role our medical researchers can play in tackling the biggest health challenges.”

Former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, once said that 'Howard Florey was the most important man ever born in Australia'.

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