The Australian Rotary Health Research Fund (ARHRF) is one of the largest independent medical research funds in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation supported by more than 1,200 Rotary clubs and 40,000 Rotarians. The Fund is Rotary’s main community service program in Australia. Since its establishment in 1981 the ARHRF has invested more than $15 million in research projects ranging from cot death and adolescent health, to the Ross River virus and bowel cancer screening. Its current research focus area is mental health.
How It All Began
In 1981 a Rotarian named Ian Scott from the Rotary Club of Mornington in Victoria suggested that Rotary set up a fund to raise money for research into the causes of cot death. Ian believed that if Rotary clubs from across Australia could raise $2 million, the interest earned from the ongoing investment of this money could fund Australian research projects.
In 2000 the ARHRF began a commitment to invest in mental health research. Since then, $7 million has been invested in mental health research. In 2007, the Fund will provide $1.2 million in new research grants to mental health projects. For the first time, grants will be provided to research that focuses on evaluating a mental health service or program ($475,000). Research that improves existing health services or evaluates new health services for people living in rural and remote areas will also receive funding ($120,000).
When the ARHRF committed to investing in mental health research in 2000, it also committed itself to helping break down the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding mental illness. Over the past six years, the ARHRF, together with local Rotary clubs, councils and beyondblue have organised more than 430 forums on mental health issues for local communities across Australia.
Funding Partner Grants
The ‘Funding Partners’ program was introduced in 2004. The program is a partnership between Rotary clubs or districts, with universities and the ARHRF to fund research outside the Fund’s current research focus area of mental health. Research has been sponsored in other areas such as rheumatoid arthritis, ovarian cancer, motor neurone disease and malaria.
In 2007, 37 students will undertake Doctor of Philosophy studies (PhDs) thanks to the ARHRF. Some scholarships are funded by the ARHRF, together with local Rotary clubs or districts as well as universities, through the Funding Partners program. Other PhDs are solely funded by the ARHRF through the Ian Scott Fellowship. These PhD scholarships were introduced in 2000 for students wanting to complete postgraduate study in mental health research. In 2007, there will be 10 Ian Scott Fellows.
The ARHRF currently offers two post-doctoral fellowships – the Royce Abbey Post-doctoral Fellowship and the Geoffrey Betts Post-doctoral Fellowship. Both fellowships are worth $225,000 or $75,000 over three years and are open to researchers who have already achieved a PhD. In 2007, a new post-doctoral fellowship – the Colin Dodds Fellowship – will be awarded.
Indigenous Health Scholarships
The ARHRF started its Indigenous Health Scholarship program in 2003 to help indigenous students undertake health-related studies. Thirty-two people have since graduated and 58 people are currently in the program. The program is a cooperative project between Rotary, the Federal Government and some State and Territory governments.
Rural Medical Scholarships
In 2007, the ARHRF will for the first time offer 28 scholarships worth $5,000 each as an incentive for medical students attending one of the 14 Rural Clinical Schools of Australia to complete at least one year of their training in a rural area. Scholarship recipients are expected to become actively involved with the local Rotary club in the area.
The ARHRF has committed $750,000 over the next three years to a new mental health initiative that focuses on creating a positive school environment for children known as ‘KidsMatter’. The Australian Government developed KidsMatter in partnership with beyondblue, the Australian Psychological Society and the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council. In addition to its financial contribution, the ARHRF hopes to buddy-up each of the schools with a local Rotary club.
Transport Industry Survey
The ARHRF has invested $100,000 in research to better understand the mental health issues facing the transport industry. The research is being conducted by researchers from the University of Queensland as part of an international study looking at the economic benefits of early identification and treatment of depression.
Bowelscan was started in 1983 by the Rotary Club of Lismore on the initiative of the late Dr “Bill” Brand. Almost 500 clubs are now involved. Each year the program detects cancers of the bowel in about 120 people and more than 400 people with polyps, which can be precursors of bowel cancer.