Posted by: asprockett | May 6, 2013

Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum

Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum of Science and Design is named for the building in which it is now housed: a converted electric tram power station in Ultimo (located approximately between Central and Town Hall Stations). The Powerhouse Museum has a number of interesting exhibits, including a replica of the Strasbourg Clock, the first locomotive in New South Wales, and an exhibit about the iconic, Australian children’s group, The Wiggles. But I was impressed by the wealth of public health-focused displays.

For example, the Engineering Excellence Awards section featured a sleep-apnea mask developed for children and a small, non-invasive machine to monitor cardiovascular health. But I was most interested by the MicroRapid lateral flow blood test. The device is safe enough and basic enough that non-medical personnel can use the tool to conduct blood tests for a variety of conditions and infectious diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, Hepatitis B and C, and even HIV. The device takes a small sample of blood, saliva or urine (based on the test needs) then proceeds with the diagnostic testing, which can be completed in about 15 minutes.

Among the 15 Innovations that Changed the World, the museum included sanitation, pointing out the benefits it provided in preventing disease and consequently increasing life expectancies. Also included in the 15 Innovations was the birth control pill. One of the benefits mentioned was the changes in gender roles, as well as empowering a woman to delay childbirth and/or have smaller families, which allows women to pursue educational and employment opportunities. Needless to say, I was impressed: two public health innovations were included in the museum’s top 15!

But what really struck me was the Access to Life Project exhibit about HIV and AIDS, dating back to HIV’s first recognition in humans 1981. The Access to Life Project is a joint venture of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Magnum Photos to document the impact antiretroviral treatment (ART) has on the lives of individuals across the globe. The project focuses on the impact of ART as a juxtaposition to the attention paid to the number of lives lost to AIDS. The exhibit features the short stories and quotes of individuals receiving ART in India, Haiti, Mali, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Vietnam, and Papua New Guinea. While not all of the individuals featured in the photos survived, despite receiving ART, the majority are surviving and living healthy lives. The photos feature individual quotes that express the ways in which ART continues to impact the individual’s life.

Another section of the exhibit focuses on the impact of HIV and AIDS in Australia, including the development of HIV and AIDS, treatments, awareness and public health campaigns to educate the public such as the Grim Reaper TV ad and Condom Man.

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I had hoped the exhibit would include the origin of HIV in humans, how HIV is spread or how to prevent the spread, treatment details or the global impact of HIV or programs currently being undertaken to address HIV. These are important aspects related to the personal stories and should also be featured as part of the campaign.

That said, it was a moving exhibit and I would encourage individuals to visit the museum as you’ll find lots to explore. And, as a budding public health professional I encourage you to keep an extra eye out for the many ways in which public health fits into the museum – and into our daily lives.

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