Celebrating our women: Professor Ruth Bishop

In recognition of International Women’s Day, we’ve shared stories each day this week from women, both past and present, who have had an impact on The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) throughout our 150-year history.

Ruth Bishop, circa 1973. Image courtesy of The Royal Children’s Hospital Archives.

Today we celebrate Professor Ruth Bishop and her long history of incredible contribution to the RCH and children all over the world.

In 1973, Ruth Bishop led a team of researchers that discovered the Rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhoea among infants and young children. Prior to Ruth’s discovery, acute gastroenteritis was claiming the lives of half a million children every year, mostly in developing countries. It was a major breakthrough in one of the most significant causes of global infant mortality at the time.

The discovery initiated a life’s work for Ruth – understanding the virus, working out how it spreads and fighting back with treatments and vaccines, advising the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a result, vaccination against ‘gastro’ has been part of the National Immunisation Program for all Australian infants since July 2007, with marked reductions in diarrhea deaths and hospitalisations.

Prior to the introduction of Rotavirus vaccines in Australia, more than 10,000 children were admitted with the disease every year. Since the discovery, hospital admissions for acute gastroenteritis in Australia have dropped to under 2,000 per year, and the gastroenteritis ward at the RCH no longer exists – it isn’t needed!

On the back of decades of pivotal research led by Ruth and her team, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) has developed a novel oral Rotavirus vaccine, RV3-BB, which can be given to babies soon after birth to provide the earliest possible protection from Rotavirus.

Although Ruth is now retired, she continues to contribute to the RCH Grand Rounds and is an Esteemed Honorary Fellow at MCRI. In 2013, Ruth was awarded the prestigious CSL Florey Medal for her significant achievements in biomedical science and human health advancement – the first ever women to receive the honour.

More recently, Ruth was captured by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz as part of a global project to promote vaccination, and was also appointed a Companion to the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2019.

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate Ruth’s leading, dedicated and inspiring work in improving the health and saving the lives of so many children across the world.

Professor Ruth Bishop

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