Gracey, Michael

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MB BS 1962 MD 1974

Michael Gracey became the inaugural Professor of Aboriginal Health in the School of Public Health at Curtin University in 1997. His career has focussed on improving the health of infants and children in developing countries and of Aboriginal children in Australia.

After graduating from Medicine at the University of Sydney, Michael worked for four years as a Resident Medical and Surgical Officer, and Registrar at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. For the next three years he worked in child health and paediatric research at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. He then travelled to Papua New Guinea, taking up appointments at the Port Moresby General Hospital, the Papuan Medical College and at various other remote outposts. He then undertook two years of laboratory and clinically-related research studies at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in London, at the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham and at the University of Birmingham, in England.

After basic clinical training and research studies in Australia and the United Kingdom, he worked in several Asian countries, particularly Indonesia, India andThailand, and with Tibetan refugee children in the Himalayas. This work with infants and children in developing countries led to a strong personal commitment to helping to improve the health and well-being of youngsters, particularly in poorer countries, but also among the socially, politically and economically deprived sections of otherwise affluent societies, like Australia. This motivated him to become active in the International Paediatric Association (IPA). Michael has worked with the IPA in several roles over more than 25 years, culminating in his election as the Association’s President in 1998. He is the only Australian to have been given that honour. His work with the IPA has taken him to dozens of countries and has given him extensive experience in international child health and the interrelationships between professional, commercial, and international organisations, as well as government and non-government organisations.

Recurring themes in Michael’s research career have been the search for new causes of infectious diarrhoeas and better ways to prevent and treat diarrhoea and dehydration.[1] His Doctor of Medicine thesis was based on investigations into the mechanisms by which intestinal micro-organisms cause diarrhoea and intestinal malabsorption, and his Doctor of Philosophy thesis (University of Western Australia) investigated epidemiological, clinical and microbiological aspects of diarrhoeal disease in malnourished Australian Aboriginal and Indonesian children.

In 1985, his research group made the extraordinary finding that widely available and inexpensive non-carbonated soft drinks (or cordials) have dramatic anti-bacterial properties.[1] One of his research projects showed that this anti-microbial power of the powdered soft drink base that was subsequently developed was effective within minutes against a wide range of bacteria that cause diarrhoea, including E.coli, Shigella, Salmonella and even Vibrio cholerae, the cause of human cholera.

Michael’s work has continued to have a strong emphasis on environmental health, an interest which he pursued for more than 12 years through his work for the Department of Health of Western Australia in remote, rural and metropolitan Aboriginal communities throughout the western third of Australia. He has also remained committed to teaching and research, with academic pursuits at both the University of Western Australia and Curtin University. In 1997 he became the inaugural Professor of Aboriginal Health in the School of Public Health at Curtin University.

Apart from that position, Michael more recently held the position of Principal Medical Adviser to the West Australian Health Department on the health of Aboriginal people in Western Australia. He has lived and worked for more than 30 years with Aboriginal people in remote communities in the Kimberley region and in the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts in the north, central and eastern parts of Western Australia. This community-based work involves considerable personal involvement within the communities. He continues this community-based work in remote parts of Western Australia through his involvement with the Unity of First People of Australia, a not-for-profit organisation devoted to the advancement of Australia’s indigenous people. Results of some of that work were recently presented to the International Congress of Paediatrics in Mexico, attracting the interest of a large international audience that included representatives of international organisations such as the WHO and UNICEF.

In his work over many years, his most important aim has been to be an advocate for the health and well-being of infants and children, particularly those most disadvantaged, such as the Australian Aboriginal children.[1]

Michael Gracey was designated the Most Outstanding Paediatrician in Asia in 1997, received the Medal of Honour of the International Paediatric Association in 2001 and was made an Honoured professor of the Kazakh State Medical University in Almaty, Republic of Kazakhstan, in the same year.

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Gracey, Michael. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.