Western Alliance Staff and Associates
Drew Aras Executive OfficerBAppSci (Physiotherapy), MPH
Hailing from Ocean Grove, Drew started his career as a physiotherapist working in public health settings across Geelong, Melbourne, Sydney and the United Kingdom. He has since completed a Master of Public Health and has worked in health promotion and preventative health, health program and project management and extensively in health research and education.
Prior to commencing with Western Alliance in October 2018, Drew was the Associate Director of Education & Research at Northern Health, a large public health service in Melbourne’s north. Drew has a special interest in health services research, workforce development, preventative health, patient experience, health literacy and falls prevention.
Drew provides support and advice to the Board, including on policy, planning and implementation, and is also responsible for Western Alliance’s day-to-day operations, financial management and staffing, Drew also administers the research funding portfolio. Drew looks forward to helping to build research and improve health outcomes across western Victoria.
Telephone: (03) 4215 2896
Cassandra Hamilton Administrative Officer
Cassandra Hamilton provides administrative support and advice to the Executive Officer and the Board, as well as office administration, website maintenance, correspondence and event organisation.
Cassandra has over 20 years’ experience in office administration. Prior to commencing with Western Alliance in March 2018, Cassandra worked at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for over 8 years in a variety of roles – her most recent role involved management of the secretarial team for the Haematology and Medical Oncology departments, overseeing administration for the Division of Cancer Medicine and assisting the divisional Director.
Telephone: (03) 4215 2900
Dr Renée OtmarBA, GradDipEdPub, MA(Communications), MPH, GCALL, PhD, Cert Governance
Renée is a senior consultant researcher and business and communications specialist with experience and executive-level expertise in strategic planning, public health research and project management, professional writing, editing and publishing.
She has high-level expertise in leading, developing and implementing strategic programs and projects in the health and medical research contexts, including policy development, implementation and delivery of strategic communications objectives across media platforms and channels, including social media.
Renée built her research career following a distinguished career as a writer, editor and publisher.
Qualifications. In addition to her PhD in the disciplines of medicine, anthropology and health communications, Renée has a strong academic record in communications and public health. Click here for a list of her academic qualifications.
Awards and affiliations. During her career Renée has been honoured for distinguished service. Click here for a list of her awards, affiliations and committee/board positions.
Publications. Renée is a published author in several genres, covering her professional and personal interests.
Human Research Ethics Committees (HREC). In a voluntary capacity, Renée serves as Deputy Chair of the Barwon Health HREC and has been a researcher member of that committee since April 2013. She is also a researcher member of the federal Department of Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs HREC, a joint ministerial appointment.
Western Alliance. Commencing in December 2013, Renée drafted and implemented the business case for the establishment of Western Alliance on 14 March 2014. In her former role as Executive Officer (2014–18),
Renée provided support and advice to the Board, including on policy, planning and implementation, and was responsible for Western Alliance’s day-to-day operations, financial management, communications and staffing. She founded and convened the Annual Symposium and administered the Centre’s research funding portfolio.
Mobile: 0409 792 799
Email: researchreneeotmar.com.au and r.otmardeakin.edu.au
Dr Campbell Aitken
I spend most of each week working as a freelance editor and writer, but every Friday I resume my long-term role as a senior research fellow at the Burnet Institute.
I started at Burnet in 1995, helping to finish off a pioneering study of blood-borne viruses in people who inject drugs (the Victorian Injecting Drug Users Cohort Study – VICS). From 2008, as my editing and writing work increased, I progressively scaled back my research, but I continue to be involved in a range of projects related to research on the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and/or drug use, and edit much of the output from the Burnet’s Centre for Population Health.
Among Australian research in its field, VICS was and remains unusual for its degree of focus on regional and rural drug users. VICS employed mostly peer interviewers (researchers with intimate knowledge of injecting drug use) to find, interview and take blood samples from people who inject drugs. We recontacted these participants annually to assess behavioural changes and to measure incidence (the number of new infections per 100 people per year) of HIV, HCV and the hepatitis B virus. Our interviewers collected data from people living all around western Victoria and in regional centres including Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Warrnambool.
The Western District proved particularly fertile ground for VICS, due largely to the efforts of Dr Rodger Brough of Warrnambool and Region Drug and Alcohol Centre (WRAD) and research nurse Vicky Hunt. The extensive data they collected enabled us to write an article (with funding from The Ray and Joyce Uebergang Foundation), published in Drug and Alcohol Review in 1999,(1) that is still one of only a few worldwide about non-urban drug users and blood-borne viruses. As noted in a previous In Brief article, we found that people in the Western District who inject drugs (mostly amphetamine injectors) had lower HCV prevalence than their counterparts in Melbourne, but the incidence of infection was higher, suggesting that the epidemic was progressing more rapidly.
Another Burnet project located in western Victoria involved examining risky behaviour among transient farm workers in the Loddon and Mallee regions in mid-2006.(2) We found that 30 per cent of these workers were consuming alcohol at levels considered risky to health, 30 per cent of participants with new partners reported infrequent condom use and 46 per cent had recently used illicit drugs (mainly marijuana). This population presents unique challenges for public health, as it is highly mobile, includes a high proportion of young international visitors who are keen to ‘party’, and is not well linked to local health services.
As a Western District alumnus (born in Warrnambool, lived in Warrnambool and Port Fairy, and schooled for a few years in Ballarat), I’ve enjoyed contributing towards improving the health and wellbeing of western Victorians through my research. Sharing news and information about the latest evidence from health and medical research through Western Alliance is another satisfying way to do so.
Aitken CK, Brough R and Crofts N (1999) Injecting drug use and blood-borne viruses: A comparison of rural and urban Victoria, 1991–1995, Drug and Alcohol Review, 18(1): 47–52.
Pedrana A, Aitken C, Higgs P and Hellard M (2008) Blood borne viruses and risk behaviours among transient farm workers in rural Victoria, Australian Journal of Rural Health, 16 (3): 143–9.