Friday, 11 December 2015

SPHPM congratulates Melanie Gibson on NHMRC Early Career Fellowship and grant success

Melanie Gibson recently received an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (ECF) and has now received a faculty strategic grant to co-lead a project with Dr Jacqueline Boyle and Professor Helena Teede on improving pregnancy care for populations at risk in Australia.

Her ECF research program involves three at-risk populations with evidence of poor pregnancy outcomes: women of refugee background, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

“There is considerable evidence that women in these populations can experience poorer health than the general population, are at greater risk of long-term health problems, and may not receive the health care they need,” Melanie said.

The Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI) is a partnership between Monash University and Monash Health and sits within one of only four NHMRC Advanced Health Research and Translation Centres.

MCHRI is the only Centre in Australia with dedicated women’s public health research programs in refugee health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and PCOS.

Part one of her research program has recently been awarded a faculty strategic grant and will look at addressing a current gap in pregnancy care delivery in Victoria by designing, implementing and evaluating a mental health screening program in pregnancy for women of refugee background, which aims to increase the number of women receiving appropriate care for mental health issues. Melanie is elated at the news of the strategic grant and ECF.

“In my PhD I conducted large, retrospective, epidemiological studies investigating maternal health and pregnancy outcomes among women of refugee background attending Victoria’s largest health service, Monash Health,” she said.

“A key gap I identified is a lack of screening and facilitated referral pathways for diagnosis and management of anxiety and depression in pregnancy, despite screening being part of recommended pregnancy care for all women in Australia. Under-recognition of anxiety or depression may mean that women do not receive the support and treatment they need. This is a challenge for many health services in Australia and there are complex system and individual level barriers to implementing screening.”

Monash Health serves a large multicultural population and is located in a major area of refugee resettlement in Australia. 

Over half of the women giving birth at Monash Health are born overseas, compared to one quarter nationally, and between 2002 and 2011 approximately 3600 women from refugee-source countries gave birth at Monash Health.

Melanie has long been part of the team at MCHRI but commenced as a PhD student in 2011. She quickly gained recognition for her pregnancy research, with awards at the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists Annual Scientific Meeting in 2013 and the World Congress on Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2015.

“This research is of particular importance for women who may have poor general health, experience barriers accessing health care generally or may benefit from support to change health behaviours,” Melanie said of her ECF research program.

Pregnancy is a period of frequent contact with a level of health care not typically accessed otherwise and is also an opportune time to initiate lifestyle change.

"Providing high-quality, appropriate pregnancy care can be complex, but also presents a vital opportunity to improve both short and long-term well-being of women and their babies," she said. 

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