$120,000 scholarship to combat ‘serious shortage’ of paediatric rheumatologists in Australia so kids with arthritis get the care they need
Arthritis Australia and the Australian Paediatric Rheumatology Group (APRG) are seeking applicants for one of their most impactful scholarships: the Paediatric Rheumatology Advanced Training Scholarship.
Across Australia there are currently more than 10,000 children, some as young as two years old, living with debilitating chronic rheumatic diseases; 6,000 of which suffer from Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), a disease just as common as juvenile diabetes but much less well-known.
And yet, there are less than nine full-time equivalent paediatric rheumatologists in Australia to help these children and families manage this painful, life-altering condition.
“This is particularly frustrating when we know that the minimum internationally acceptable number of paediatric rheumatologists to provide the minimum standard of care for these children is 20,” said Andrew Mills, Chief Executive Officer of Arthritis Australia.
“We are proud to offer this scholarship, as it is a critical step in combating a serious shortage of paediatric rheumatologists in Australia.”
On offer is a two-year scholarship to support paediatricians and paediatric trainees interested in training in paediatric rheumatology. The scholarship will be equivalent to the salary and on-costs of the position to which they are appointed, to a maximum of A$120,000 per year up to two years.
Facts about children and JIA
Childhood arthritis and rheumatic disease affects about 10,000 Australian children. The most common of these diseases is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
JIA is a serious chronic disease as common as childhood diabetes. It affects 1-2 in every 1000 children under the age of 16 years. Most primary schools in Australia will on average have one child suffering this condition. Although JIA resolves in many children, there is no cure and around 50 per cent of those diagnosed will continue to have ongoing active disease into adulthood.
Children with JIA suffer disabling pain, stiffness and difficulty performing normal activities of daily living such as caring for themselves, attending school or participating in sporting and social activities. Twenty percent of children with oligoarticular JIA will develop sight threatening eye inflammation (uveitis) and a smaller but significant number will suffer other serious complications including joint destruction.
Other rheumatic diseases that affect children include juvenile dermatomyositis, juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and juvenile systemic sclerosis. These are rare, very serious and disabling diseases.
Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are essential for preventing irreversible joint damage and achieving good long-term outcomes. Such treatment often involves the use of powerful medications that may have serious side effects. Paediatric rheumatic diseases often have poorer outcomes than similar conditions in adults due to a higher disease severity and longer durations of disease over the lifetime. Many children will suffer long-term disability and functional impairment and the mortality of some forms of these diseases are reported to be higher than the common types of childhood leukaemia.
Thus childhood rheumatic diseases require the expert care of a paediatric rheumatologist to give patients the best chance of leading a normal life without long term complications. Sadly, the current situation in Australia means we are experiencing extremely long waiting times in order to see too few specialists.
 Pediatric rheumatology consultant workforce in Australia and New Zealand: the current state of play and challenges for the future.Cox A, Piper S, Singh-Grewal D.Int J Rheum Dis. 2017 May;20(5):647-653. doi: 10.1111/1756-185X.12802. Epub 2016 Feb 10.
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