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Alfred Health is one of Australia’s leading healthcare services caring for Victorians for nearly 150 years. Its Department of Infectious Diseases is one of the largest and most comprehensive infectious diseases clinical services in Australia and a premier centre for clinical and biomedical research and education.

In 2008, funding from The James and Elsie Borrowman Trust (a perpetual charitable trust managed by Equity Trustees) established a Chair in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at The Alfred Hospital – a position that would nurture the career development of one of Australia’s leading Infectious Diseases experts, Professor Allen Cheng.

Professor Cheng was appointed to the role in 2009 where he held the position for three years, publishing over 24 research papers and generating competitive research funding valued at over $3 million. In what would be a career defining moment, the day of Prof Cheng’s appointment, the H1N1/09 virus, known more commonly as swine flu, was declared a pandemic. 

Prof Cheng led the development of national guidelines for the clinical management of the H1N1/09 virus. That same year, Prof Cheng and The Alfred’s Associate Prof Tom Kotsimbos helped to establish the InFLUenza Complications Alert Network (FluCAN) – a national sentinel surveillance program for severe influenza in both adults and children causing hospitalisation, the first severe influenza surveillance project of its kind in Australia.

By demonstrating the effectiveness of flu vaccines in children, FluCAN has been pivotal in successfully advocating for the vaccine to be included on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for young children for the first time in Australia’s history – research that has this year earned a finalist nomination at the country’s most prestigious science awards – the Australian Museum Eureka prize.

Prof Cheng said the opportunities provided by The Borrowman Trust were essential to career development in a field where research outcomes can often take many years.  

“A lot of early career researchers are funded by very short-term grants and it’s important to nurture scientists and academic clinicians so they can become independent and acquire their own funding down the track,” he said.

“We really need that broad and long-term range of expertise. If someone had said they were an expert in coronaviruses prior to SARS, or in retroviruses prior to HIV, we would have thought that’s a really niche area. However, we are now acutely aware of how important that knowledge can be; no knowledge is ever wasted.”   

It has been a busy year for Prof Cheng who aside from his role as Director of Infection Prevention and Healthcare Epidemiology at The Alfred, also holds positions as President of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) and as Victoria’s Acting Deputy Chief Health Officer where his expertise continues to contribute significantly to both the Federal and State government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I saw some of the very first patients with COVID-19 in March and was quarantined myself for a few weeks away from my family,” he said when reflecting on the initial outbreak. 

“While I have less of a clinical role at the moment, I’m helping to develop consistent national policy, hospital preparedness and management, and public health interventions for COVID-19.”

The Alfred Foundation are grateful recipients of The James and Elsie Borrowman Trust.   

Find out more about the transformational impact of philanthropy at The Alfred