Oxygen-therapy researcher wins major prize


Australian researcher recognised for work on low-cost, effective way to save children’s lives. Andrew Masterson reports.


Award-winning Australian paediatrician, Hamish Graham.

Award-winning Australian paediatrician, Hamish Graham.

Melbourne University

An Australian paediatrician has been given a major award for his research into the use of targeted oxygen therapy to save children’s lives.

Hamish Graham, from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, is the winner of the inaugural CSL Florey Next Generation Award for top PhD candidate in health and biomedical sciences. The award was presented on Monday night at a black-tie ceremony in Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra.

Graham and colleagues have worked to refine the use of a type of non-invasive measurement called pulse oximetry to identify children with hypoxaemia, or low blood oxygen levels. Each year the condition – often associated with pneumonia – is responsible for more than 150,000 child deaths.

The condition is difficult to detect by observation alone, and as many as 40% of cases are missed, with often fatal consequences.

Pulse oximetry is a low cost and non-traumatic method of assessing oxygen blood levels, and is particularly well suited for use in areas where the health system is poorly resourced.

However, the use of the technique sometimes varies, so Graham and colleagues decided to find out why. Over a period of three years the researchers spent time in 12 hospital in Nigeria, and in total monitored the admission and data-gathering for 38,525 children, 38% of whom were under the age of 28 days.

At first, pulse oximetry was administered to less than 3.3% of the young patients. Graham and his colleagues – drawn from his own institution, universities in Nigeria, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the US – commenced a series of training exercises, and saw its use jump to over 50% of cases in just three months. Within 12 months, the rate was above 90%.

In a paper published in the journal BMJ Global Health, Graham and his associates reported that their results identified “strategies to enhance institutional adoption of oximetry, which will be relevant for scale-up of oximetry in hospitals globally”.

“The Nigerian government has been changing its policies,” he says. “Now we want to work with the World Health Organization to make sure pulse oximetry is part of routine care for every sick child that comes to hospital.”

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326000911_Adoption_of_paediatric_and_neonatal_pulse_oximetry_by_12_hospitals_in_Nigeria_a_mixed-methods_realist_evaluation
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