Coronavirus Covid 19 Lab Research

Coronavirus in Western Australia

Western Australia and the Coronavirus Pandemic

17 April 2020

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, equal access to healthcare is a major challenge for the vast state of Western Australia. Remote towns and indigenous populations could be particularly vulnerable, but their isolated locations may also be their greatest defence.

Watch our video interview with Professor Livia Hool who has spent the last two decades conducting medical research in WA and advocating for improved access to healthcare.

Update 25 Nov 2021: Information from this article was accurate at the time of publishing and reflected the rules/advice announced by governing bodies at that time.

Video transcript

My name is Livia Hool. I'm a professor at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, but my laboratory is based at the University of Western Australia in Perth. We undertake cardiovascular research, and, like everyone else, we've been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But we're still continuing to do our research on campus, which has been difficult, but our research operations are considered to be critical.

I've been working in this beautiful state of Western Australia for just over 20 years. I'm originally from Sydney. I was born and educated in Sydney, but I love living in Western Australia. It is a stunning state with a beautiful coastline and great lifestyle. I love performing cardiovascular research here. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Western Australia, as it is in every other state and around the world. But we are a unique group in that we provide particular expertise in what we call cardiovascular electrophysiology that allows us to understand how the heart develops arrhythmias or sudden cardiac death, and how calcium relates to the development of disease and sudden cardiac death.

I have an extremely talented team that's continuing to work through the COVID pandemic, and we're extremely fortunate to be able to have the infrastructure and the facilities here to be able to undertake this research.

What's the current rate of infection of COVID-19 in Western Australia?

We have 532 infected people as of today, 15th April 2020, and six deaths. And the majority of those have come from people traveling overseas, as is the case with the other states. We, do have the advantage of being isolated, and we have closed our borders as of approximately two weeks ago. That I think is definitely putting us in good stead with respect to keeping us isolated from the rest of the country and also the rest of the world. We may well be the first state that starts to venture forward with respect to children returning to school and with public spaces then becoming more active, because our rate of COVID-19 infection has been so low.

What challenges will WA face as it confronts the pandemic?

Western Australia has unique challenges in delivery of healthcare. We're the largest state and the most isolated peoples. That's actually helping us considerably at the moment with respect to a viral pandemic. We're now an island within an island, as our Premier has stated, and that's actually holding us in very good stead. But in terms of health care delivery for people that may be infected, we are a large state, we have huge, remote regions and delivery of health care to these remote regions is unique and a challenge to us even in the absence of a pandemic.

We have groups of people who are particularly vulnerable in remote regions. All our remote communities have difficulty accessing health care, but also we have vulnerable groups such as our indigenous populations that are in remote areas. So delivery of healthcare to them, it's also a challenge. This pandemic poses additional challenges in that we need to be able to keep those groups isolated and safe and healthy, in addition to our large population in Perth.

We know that our remote communities have 40% increased risk of dying from a heart attack and are twice as likely to be hospitalized for a cardiac event. So we need to protect our remote communities and make sure that they get health care with urgent management. But we also have vulnerable communities such as our indigenous communities that we need to protect, and the state government has worked very hard to ensure that indigenous communities are kept isolated and that people aren't allowed freedom to move within the state into these regions.

Is Western Australia prepared for COVID-19?

In my view, yes. Our state's prepared. We have 301 new ventilators and 200 additional intensive care beds. We've had $15 million provided by the state government put into additional equipment, and Andrew Forrest and Minderoo Foundation actually provided $160 million grant for additional PPE, or personal protection equipment, that just arrived last week from China. So that has been extremely well received and welcomed by the Western Australian community. It's a very important leadership statement currently during the crisis.

How is the pandemic impacting progress in heart research?

Cardiovascular disease continues to be a huge burden in Western Australia, as it is around the world. I think now that our focus is on the COVID pandemic. But we need to understand that medical research takes huge investment over many, many years, and more than ever, we need to be able to invest in this research. So even though it's a difficult time for many people, medical research investment and donations for medical research are even more critical now than any other time. We need to continue so that beyond COVID-19, there will be therapies available to help people. Even those that recover from COVID-19, we may be looking at a completely different cardiovascular disorder, given that 30% of these patients will develop significant cardiovascular problems. So, we may be looking at a completely new disease group that we need to design therapy for and this is incredibly important beyond COVID-19.

Final words?

I hope that some of these comments have helped you to understand how we're working towards cardiovascular therapies in Western Australia. And if you're wanting any further information, please refer you to Victor Chang Cardiac Research website for further videos and information regarding cardiovascular health at this time. And I wish you good health and goodbye.

** Professor Livia Hool is based at the University of Western Australia and joined the team at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in 2013.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years