Global health news round-up: Australia to invest billions in mental health, MIT anaesthesia discovery

At the end of every hectic week in healthcare news, we like to round-up the best of the rest of the news that took place.

During Mental Health Awareness Week, much of the focus has understandably been on wellbeing – so we’ve covered news from local UK NHS trusts, highlighting the role of nature in care, an initiative combining arts and mindfulness workshops for patients, and the building of a new mental health facility.

But we also like to expand our horizons and take a closer look at the news stories making an impact across the globe. So here are the international events that have caught our eye….

We start in Singapore, where Reuters reports that BioNTech – the German biotechnology company best known for co-developing a COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer – has announced plans to set up a new regional centre and vaccine factory. According to the report, the facility will “address potential pandemic threats” in the southeast Asia region and increase the company’s global supply capacity. It’s expected to be operational in 2023.

Singapore’s government has also brought in its strictest curbs on social activities since last year, following a surge in locally acquired infections and an increase in new COVID-19 clusters. The measures – which include limiting gatherings, stopping dining out and increased working from home – are expected to last until mid-June.

The news arrives just weeks after the nation took top spot in Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking, after being widely praised for its consistently low COVID case numbers, low community transmission and quick vaccination roll-out. (Reuters / Reuters)

Over in the US, MIT scientists have discovered that anaesthesia changes rhythms in the brain, rather than simply ‘turning it off’. By measuring neural rhythms and spikes across five brain areas, a collaborative study by researchers at labs from the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT found that “propofol dramatically changes and controls the dynamics of the brain’s rhythms”.

It’s hoped that studies such as this can improve patient safety, acting as models so that clinicians in operating theatres can measure when subjects have entered unconsciousness, how deeply they remain in that state, and how quickly they may wake up. (MIT News)

Australia has also been focusing on mental health this week – by announcing what it calls a ‘historic’ investment of (AUS) $2.3 billion in its National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan. According to the Australian government, this is the largest Commonwealth mental health investment in the nation’s history.

The commitment, laid out in the annual budget, includes the creation of a national network of up to 57 additional mental health treatment sites for adults and more centres for children and young people, too. While the overall plan will be focused on key themes including focusing on prevention and early intervention, by providing a ‘Head to Health’ digital gateway, more joined-up care, more follow-ups for those discharged from hospital after suicide attempts, and enhancing mental health in primary care.

In more Australian budget news, there will also be a (AUS) $17.7 billion reform package to provide higher quality and safer care for senior Australians, in what’s described as a ‘once in a generation change’.

As part of a response to a report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the government will look at supporting more home care, improving residential aged care services and simplifying access to them, and supporting and growing a better skilled care workforce. These are being backed by investment in Home Care Packages, a new Government Basic Daily Fee supplement for care providers, additional financial support for registered nurses working for aged care providers, and funds to create a local network of Department of Health staff.  (Australian Government Department of Health / Department of Health)

Elsewhere, the United Arab Emirates has announced over Twitter that is has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged between 12 and 15-years-old, having already previously given the go-ahead for its use in over-16s. (The Guardian)