On a sunny Melbourne morning in late November, Professor Brendan Crabb walks through the halls of the Burnet Institute, catching up with research assistants and reviewing new data before finally sitting down at his desk for the first time in months.
A “transformative” research scientist, Crabb has dedicated his career and work as the director and CEO of medical research facility the Burnet Institute to finding solutions through science to complex health problems, and then bringing them to people who can’t afford them.
This year, Crabb has had to add COVID-19 to a long list of research themes.
"The Burnet Institute has turned most of its resources and staff to focus on COVID-19,” Crabb told Global Citizen. “We started with advocating for strong standard pandemic action before applying the science. We asked ourselves, can we make a diagnostic test that doesn’t just work, but that is available to everybody?”
The addition of COVID-19 has only made Burnet’s mission all the more clear, Crabb said.
"Diseases like malaria and COVID-19 are technical problems that require science to find answers,” Crabb — who has been named the winner of the 2020 Global Citizen Prize: Australia’s Hero Award, presented by Vodafone — explains. “But they are also a problem of poverty, of neglect. Burnet tries to bring those two things together. It's equity and poverty alleviation that drives us.”
We are so thrilled that Professor Brendan Crabb AC is the winner of the 2020 @GlblCtzn Prize: Australia's Hero Award! He, and many others, were celebrated during #GCPrize! Missed the show? Watch here: https://t.co/a5tpc0RdDv— Global Citizen Australia (@GlblCtznAU) December 20, 2020
The Global Citizen Prize: Country Hero Award honours individuals who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to achieving the UN’s Global Goals and championing the world’s most vulnerable people. The award sees recipients win $10,000 to support their projects, and, alongside Australia, will be presented to individuals or organisations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Nigeria, South Africa and Mexico.
The awards will be presented during the Global Citizen Prize award ceremony, which will broadcast and stream around the world from Dec. 19 to honour and celebrate this year’s most remarkable leaders and activists. In Australia, the show will broadcast on YouTube on Sunday, Dec. 20 at 3.30 p.m. AEDT. You can find full global listings, and details of how to tune in wherever you are, here.
Australia's new #AIIDGH infectious diseases hub will help safeguard the nation and stimulate the economy through the creation of industries of the future. A red letter day for Australia: @CrabbBrendan@TheDohertyInst@TheRMH@unimelb@WEHI_research@MCRI_for_kids@DanielAndrewsMPpic.twitter.com/aU5tPlNBVT— Burnet Institute (@BurnetInstitute) November 13, 2020
Growing up in Papua New Guinea, Crabb was made acutely aware of the extreme poverty that encompasses so much of the world.
"I experienced a different world to the one here in Australia, certainly with a lot more poverty and health-related issues,” he said. “I didn't connect the dots there until I was a third-year science student exposed to infectious diseases. And I just thought this is the world for me.”
Crabb added: “I wanted to, and I still want to, understand why organisms like the one that causes COVID-19 are such a problem where other very closely related organisms are not. I want to know why, when you have solutions in science that are so great, that only some people get access to them?”
The biggest challenge for Australia’s region isn’t COVID-19, but rather non-COVID-19 morbidity, Crabb says. Existing health challenges in countries like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands or Timor Leste have only been exacerbated during this time, and health services like maternal and antenatal care, and sexual and reproductive health, have suffered.
"That is the tsunami that we have to avoid in the region,” Crabb says.
It’s this concern that initially spurred Crabb to Chair the Pacific Friends of Global Health, an alliance serving three of the world’s most prominent health organisations: the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and UNITAID.
As Chair, Crabb works to ensure the region receives the appropriate political and financial investment to achieve strong health equity and security, including life-saving immunization programs and a robust health system infrastructure.
As well as the Country Hero Award winners, the Global Citizen Prize show will also honour leaders and activists across government, business, entertainment and the arts, philanthropy, activism and more. The show will feature performances by Alessia Cara, Carrie Underwood, Common, Gwen Stefani, John Legend, JoJo and Tori Kelly, and will include appearances from John Oliver, Nick Jonas, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
"Winning Australia's Hero Award is incredibly special to me. I should start by saying I don't feel very heroic. I'm far too privileged a person to warrant that classification,” Crabb said. “But I do feel incredibly honoured, because Global Citizen’s purpose and the community it represents is so aligned with the things that drive me.”
“I receive this award on behalf of all my staff and students, friends and colleagues and all other like-minded organisations in Australia and across the region,” Crabb added.
Join Global Citizen in December 2020 to celebrate the leaders among us who have stepped up against a backdrop of unprecedented global challenges to take action for the world we want — a world that is fair, just and equal.
The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will also feature inspirational stories of human strength and unforgettable performances that will bring together artists, activists and global leaders to remind each of us that, together, we will come out of this year stronger. Find out more about the Global Citizen Prize here.