Q&A with Professor Cathy Vaughan, Nossal Director
Professor Cathy Vaughan commenced as Director of the Nossal Institute for Global Health and Managing Director of Nossal Institute Limited, in late April 2023. Professor Vaughan is a public health researcher with expertise in gender, violence prevention and women's health. She has worked extensively in Asia, the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa and is committed to participatory approaches to health research and to research capacity building.
What inspires your work?
I am passionate about promoting social justice and striving for health equity. I think this was originally inspired by an aunt working as a physiotherapist in India in the 1960s and an aunt and uncle working as a nurse and teacher respectively in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. They had pretty eye-opening stories for a farm kid.
What attracted you to Global Health research?
Working as a physiotherapist in Pakistan in the mid 90s was a totally formative experience. And frustrating - most of what I was seeing was preventable. This sent me down the global public health path, with a focus on applied research and understanding how to put evidence into practice.
What do you think is the link between applied research and health outcomes?
Sometimes evidence generated in quite controlled conditions, in high income countries, is hard to use in low- and middle-income countries or even when working with groups experiencing health inequalities in high-income countries. Rigorous applied research that focuses on implementation of evidence in complex contexts is more likely to tell us about what will improve health in the places where Nossal works. And it is much more likely to make a practical, concrete difference to people’s lives.
What do you think is the most pressing issue in Global Health?
Inequity stands out as the foremost challenge in global health. This includes inequity in health between different countries, within countries, and among different groups within countries. And inequity cuts across other huge challenges like the impact of climate change on health. I think it also includes inequities in how global health is done – inequities between researchers from, say, Australia, and researchers from countries in Asia and the Pacific, for example, are stark when it comes to research leadership, funding, authorship, credit and status. Too often the global health ‘sector’ has just been an extension of the colonial project and this has to change.
What are you hoping to achieve as Nossal Director?
Firstly to enable the fantastic work that is already done by the team, and to support people to grow in their respective fields – they know far better than I what is needed in their different sectors. I also want to build on Nossal’s existing partnerships locally and globally, strengthening our networks and collaborations. Nossal works with fantastic research institutes, universities, NGOs and government partners, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, and we respect their deep expertise and experience. Our partners know how we can be most useful to them, and we want to be able to be responsive to this.
What do you do when you are not in the office?
I am a taxi driver for a teenage swimmer. I’m either delivering her to the pool, waiting outside the pool, or picking up this ravenous creature and immediately supplying large volumes of food!