Gabrielle McCallum

Harry Giese AM MBE (1913–2000) was a passionate Territorian who played a key role in the establishment of the Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies) in the early 1980s.

In recognition of his outstanding contribution to the landscape of health and education in Northern Australia, the Giese family, with Menzies, have developed the Harry Christian Giese – Research into Action Award.

Clinical research operations manager of Menzies’ Respiratory Program, Gabrielle McCallum, has been named as the inaugural winner of the award to champion the translation of her research findings into medical interventions. 

The selection panel commended Ms McCallum's application for its “strong science and excellent support for remote staff through the development of standardised protocols” and for “the emphasis on infant and child health and the potential for international outreach.”

Ms McCallum said she was humbled to receive an award which recognised a trailblazer in NT health.

“Translating research findings into meaningful outcomes for both families and health professionals remains the primary focus of my work. Children are our future; by giving children the best start in life, through evidence-based strategies/programs, we will provide a platform to access the best opportunities to a healthy life,” Ms McCallum said.

Ms McCallum has made a remarkable journey from registered nurse to researcher and is nearing the completion of her PhD studies under the supervision of esteemed respiratory specialist and head of Menzies’ Child Health Division, Professor Anne Chang.

She remains passionate and steadfast about raising awareness of lung health among Indigenous families and communities. “When I started work in the NT over a decade ago, I fell in love with Indigenous kids. There was something really special about them,” she said.

“Under the mentorship of Professor Chang, I am driven to change the way we support and manage young Indigenous children with respiratory disease.”

NT Indigenous children present to hospital more often with more severe lung infections than non-Indigenous children. Bronchiolitis in infancy may be followed by recurrent lung infections and bronchiectasis, resulting in permanent lung damage.

Menzies researchers, in collaboration with Queensland and New Zealand colleagues, were recently funded by The National Health and Medical Research Council to test the effectiveness of the antibiotic, Azithromycin, in reducing the severity of bronchiolitis and hospital re-admission for 200 hospitalised Indigenous children.

Although the full results of this study are yet to be analysed, the research team discovered that:

  1. Once home from hospital, many Indigenous children have continuing respiratory problems. For example, at their 21 day check-up, 40 per cent of children had either a persistent cough or respiratory abnormality and within 13 months of discharge, 13 per cent were diagnosed with bronchiectasis.
  2. The bronchiolitis severity scoring tool validated by the team is easy to use and helps nurses/clinicians manage episodes of acute bronchiolitis.

Ms McCallum will use her award to accelerate the widespread adoption of procedures that will lead to better management of Indigenous children with respiratory illnesses.

“We will introduce an electronic clinical review in the child’s relevant Patient Communication Information System (PCIS/Communicare) that will act as a direct link between the Royal Darwin Hospital and remote health clinics, leading to better monitoring of children recently discharged from hospital,” she said.

“Early detection of bronchiolitis reduces the need for hospitalisation and the risk of progression to bronchiectasis.”

Ms McCallum said the respiratory team were also in the process of developing educational sessions to support the delivery of the clinical review to remote staff.

“We will use some of the teaching tools produced by the Menzies team. Our flipcharts were recently found to significantly increase parents’ knowledge of respiratory diseases,” she said.

“We also plan to integrate a severity scoring tool into the clinical assessment forms used by nursing staff on the paediatric wards.”