The establishment of the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health (NCEPH) resulted from a 1986 review of Australian public health teaching and research undertaken for the Australian government by Dr Kerr White from the Rockefeller Foundation. That review also led to the founding of the Australian Institute of Health (now the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare) and the Commonwealth Department of Health’s Public Health Education & Research Program (PHERP), which provided significant funding to NCEPH up until 2010.
Kerr White’s vision for NCEPH is encapsulated in the following statement:
"Although most of the Centre’s studies will be investigator initiated and curiosity based, they should take place in the context of a portfolio of clearly defined problem oriented goals and targets and objectives, that are responsive to perceived needs in Australia, the surrounding region and internationally."
Our foundation Director, Bob Douglas, responded to the challenge with gusto. From the beginning, our research has been characterised by a multidisciplinary approach building on the five disciplines of epidemiology, statistics, sociology, health economics and demography. We have tackled a wide range of problems from Indigenous mortality to hospital financing to arsenic poisoning from groundwater in Bangladesh to obesity. In the 1990s we achieved recognition and a degree of notoriety for recommending a trial of heroin prescription.
Bob Douglas’ history of NCEPH’s first 12 years (PDF, 874KB) reveal how our broad range of activities came into being. The crown jewel of his achievements was the establishment of the Master of Applied Epidemiology program, which provides the core of Australia’s capacity for infectious disease outbreak investigation. He also laid the foundations for future research into the social determinants of health.
Tony McMichael continued our engagement with complex policy relevant problems, especially through his own work examining the effects of climate change on health. His pre-eminence in this area was recognised by the award of a prestigious Australia Fellowship in 2007, which also required him to step down from the Directorship.
With the government’s decision to wind-up PHERP funding in 2010, Niels Becker guided our transition to ANU funding. He promoted the establishment of the Institute of Population Health within the ANU College structure. Niels Becker also oversaw the consolidation of our areas of research.
After his retirement in July 2011, Professor Gabriele Bammer was appointed as Director, agreeing to serve to the end of 2013. She oversaw NCEPH's incorporation into the Research School of Population Health (of which she became the inaugural director in mid-2012), revitalised the Master of Philosophy (Applied Epidemiology) under a new funding model, streamlined distribution of the Centre's bequests, renewed its philanthropic fundraising activities and initiated the McMichael Festschrift celebration.
NCEPH has always been a harmonious and friendly workplace, due in no small part to the efforts of the administrative staff, who have provided strong support for our teaching and research. This brief overview cannot do justice to the many achievements of the staff and students over the years, but these five snippets provide a glimpse.
- Jack Caldwell helped pioneer research on AIDS in Africa.
- Dorothy Broom undertook leading research on women’s health centres and strengthened examination of the gender dimension in population health.
- John Deeble staunchly defended Medicare and worked with other countries to introduce national health care systems.
- The late Aileen Plant solidified Australia’s communicable disease program, as well as its assistance in international outbreak investigations.
- David Legge helped revolutionise primary health care in Australia.
NCEPH: The first twelve years 1988-2000 (PDF, 874KB) provides further insight into the people and research that contributed to the establishment of NCEPH during that time.