2020 at a glance

$6.7M Total external income
12 Category 1 projects awarded
4 Externally funded fellowships awarded
7 Internally funded fellowships
75 Externally funded new projects
224 Members
110 Active PhD students
13 PhD completions
445 Publications

Our message

Message from the Director

Professor Anna Peeters
Director, Institute for Health Transformation

‘Unprecedented’ was the official word of the year for 2020, but I think that ‘resilience’, ‘courage’ and ‘innovation’ should also be high on the list. I’m proud that in what was an extremely challenging year the Institute for Health Transformation and our partners continued to work together and support each other in achieving our vision of enhancing health and wellbeing for all Australians.

While the COVID-19 pandemic changed many things about our world, it also created opportunities for the Institute to demonstrate thought leadership, contribute to the critical debate surrounding the crisis and facilitate cross-disciplinary research within and external to Deakin. As an Institute, we have a significant responsibility and opportunity to drive partnership research projects and collective thinking that will deliver the positive reform needed for the health system, health services, models of care, food systems, prevention systems, and workplaces.  We value all our partners and see many opportunities to contribute to health system reform through these partnerships. You can read more about our partners later in this report.

The pandemic stimulated us to explore new research ideas as we identified ways through our COVID-19 Symposium workshops to add value to health system responses and support our health and community partners. It was fantastic to see how rapidly our research community responded to the pandemic, developing a broad range of new projects, taking existing projects in new COVID-related directions and providing expert commentary to policy-makers and the media. My thanks to Professor Catherine Bennett, who spent countless hours sharing her infectious diseases expertise with journalists and decision-makers and became something of celebrity in the process while maintaining her teaching and research load. Thanks also to the numerous Institute experts who spoke to the media about the impact of the pandemic on health economics, health systems and health equity, and provided suggestions on how to use the crisis as on opportunity to drive much-needed change.

The Institute funded a number of COVID-19 related projects, ranging from investigating the impact of COVID-19 on our healthcare workers and disadvantaged communities, to evaluating the effectiveness of telehealth in delivering mental health services. You can read more about these later in this Impact Report.

I was also enormously pleased to announce the winners of our inaugural EMCR Future Leader Awards, designed by the EMCR Committee to acknowledge the EMCRs whose work is contributing to a range of national and international initiatives, including equity in population health and obesity prevention, improving patient care and services, evaluating the cost-effectiveness of prevention strategies, and reducing burden of disease in Australia and internationally. We look forward to seeing what they do next!

Despite much of the year requiring that we stay apart while staying together, we continued to build a cohesive and collaborative team through online events such as trivia competitions, regular ‘Coffee Corners’ that randomly assigned participants to Zoom breakout rooms to swap ideas and experiences, and a number of professional development and training opportunities through webinars and virtual workshops. We also established Networx, an initiative to increase connectivity between colleagues and between our members and the Institute. My thanks to the Institute’s Operations Team for its many efforts to drive these new initiatives that enabled our members to do their work and stay connected.

Despite – and because of – the challenges of 2020, it became clear that we needed to refresh the Institute’s strategy to acknowledge all the goals already achieved and respond to our changed environment. Our inaugural Board assisted greatly in developing our Strategic Refresh 2025, as did our Executive Leadership team. I would like to especially thank the Institute Executive for its strong leadership and support as we steered the Institute through a year of unexpected challenges to our operating and research environment.

I would also like to acknowledge the Faculty of Health and Schools of Health and Social Development and Nursing and Midwifery for continuing to provide a supportive environment for our researchers and our partners.

Finally, thank you to all our researchers. Well done on all your efforts throughout 2020; they have left me extremely proud of our capacity to hold onto what is important through turbulent times.

Message from the DVCR

Alfred Deakin Professor Julie Owens
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Institute for Health Transformation Board Chair

I am very pleased to present the Institute for Health Transformation’s Impact Report for 2020.

As the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways we live and work, the Institute for Health Transformation continued to address the 21st century’s most compelling and complex health challenges. The Institute has continued to focus on excellence in collaborative research that is transforming the design and delivery of prevention and care, while delivering on its vision to enhance health and wellbeing for all.

It was inspiring to see the response of the Institute’s researchers as they developed new programs of work to understand and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on our health systems, health workers, and communities, and the speed with which existing projects were adapted to address the pandemic. Recognising that this important and innovative work was also taking place across the University, the Institute was instrumental in leading and developing an online resource to showcase COVID-19 work and its impact from all areas of Deakin.

We were also fortunate to have among our researchers the leading infectious disease epidemiologist, Professor Catherine Bennett, who became an unofficial ambassador for the Institute and Deakin through her daily media appearances and LinkedIn updates. Catherine’s evidence-based analysis and informed approach to the pandemic led to a growing reputation as ‘the voice of reason’ in the media nationally and internationally, but also a vast increase in her workload. I would like to acknowledge Catherine’s extraordinary contribution to public education during the COVID-19 pandemic and thank her for her time and effort in promoting and exemplifying the vital role that epidemiology and public health research plays in preventing and dealing with disease outbreaks.

Despite the pandemic, the Institute continued achieving its core goals. In September, we announced the formation of the Institute’s inaugural Board to review and advise on the strategic direction and performance of the Institute. Our Board members are industry and research leaders and bring a wealth of experience and expertise from across the health sector. Their collective knowledge is already further developing the Institute’s capacity to impact health and wellbeing outcomes for all Australians through our excellence in partnership research. It has been my privilege to chair this group of passionate and committed health professionals, whose energy and ideas have made a significant contribution to the Institute’s strategic development.

With nearly 450 original research publications, external research income of $6.7M and more than 100 active government, community and industry partnerships in 2020, the members and partners of the Institute for Health Transformation are to be applauded for their groundbreaking research, resourcefulness and resilience and on keeping their focus firmly on achieving positive health and wellbeing for all Australians during a very challenging year.

Our work

Research domains

Deakin Health Economics

Focusing on the efficient allocation of health sector and non-health sector resources to achieve policy objectives and inform both health service design and implementation.

Read more >

Determinants of Health

Contributing to health improvements for Australian and global populations through addressing the social, environmental, commercial and political determinants of health.

Read more >

Quality and Patient Safety

Improving quality and safety of patient care through applied health services research conducted in a globally unique and world-renowned integrated health services partnership network.

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Obesity Prevention

Innovative obesity prevention research that empowers people and enables healthier environments.

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How we responded to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we design and deliver care and prevention and demanded a rapid and evolving response.

Our researchers played key roles in generating new knowledge and supporting evidence-based decision making in government and health
services, as well as contributing expert opinions to the wider conversation and debate about COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic motivated our members to explore new research ideas and adapt existing projects as we identified opportunities to add value to health system responses and support our many health and community partners. Projects funded by the Institute included:


This COVID-19 Perspectives document showcases the key roles our researchers played in generating new knowledge and supporting evidence-based decision making in government and health services, as well as contributing expert opinions to the wider conversation and debate about COVID-19.

We also encouraged the Institute’s early to mid-career researchers (EMCRs) to ‘think outside the box’ and reflect on the implications and opportunities the COVID-19 pandemic presented to their fields of research in our EMCR Committee’s inaugural Think Tank competition. The resulting series of articles covered topics from fast food marketing tactics during the pandemic to the impact on those with gambling and drug addictions to opportunities for policy reform in Australia.

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Australia, the Institute’s Professor Catherine Bennett, inaugural Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin and head of Deakin Epidemiology in the Institute’s Determinants of Health research domain, was thrown into the media spotlight to share her specialist knowledge in infectious disease epidemiology and community transmission.

Catherine became a sought-after and trusted voice in the media, clearly presenting the facts and reducing anxiety and uncertainty by stripping away the misinformation and speculation surrounding the virus and its impact on our lives. Her engaging commentary and expertise ranged from analysing and interpreting case numbers, to discussing the reasons for non-compliance with public health orders and the importance of facts over opinion.

During the pandemic, Catherine turned her LinkedIn account into an almost daily blog, explaining the facts behind the daily case numbers during outbreaks, correcting misinformation and providing reassurance.

As her media activity and reach increased across Australia and the world, the Institute for Health Transformation and Deakin University developed a web page to capture the most significant of her media appearances and numerous opinion pieces. Visit the page here.

Responding to complex health challenges in Australia

We’re committed to addressing today’s most complex and compelling health challenges that are important to the future of health systems and health of populations, not only in Australia but globally. These challenges reflect the broad scope of experience and expertise within the Institute that strongly position us to drive change at multiple levels of the health system. We aim to deliver real impact and solutions that will strengthen our health system and contribute to the health and wellbeing of all Australians, now and in the future.

Adapting to the changing profile of Australians’ health needs

Capitalising on the rapid digitalisation of health

Supporting better integration of complex and fragmented service systems

Driving systemic improvements in the safety and quality of health service delivery

Reducing persistent health inequality

Improving sustainability of our health system

Partnerships through a pandemic

The Institute for Health Transformation has well established external partnerships within and beyond the health sector, with more than 100 partners across government, non-government, peak bodies and industry. The global pandemic highlighted both the importance and the strength of these partnerships. Together we pivoted our research projects towards generating new knowledge about the impact of COVID-19 on our health professionals and communities and building evidence-based solutions.

The role of the Institute’s research will only increase with clear imperatives for health reform emerging from the pandemic. It’s clear the time is ripe for health reform and that our partnerships and skills mix put us in an excellent position to develop relevant and responsive research programs.

We have a strong Institute presence within the Victorian Healthcare Recovery Initiative, a collaborative research program across the Victorian Research Translation Centres: MelbourneAcademic Centre for Health (MACH), Monash Partners and Western Alliance and the Victorian Department of Health.

The Department has allocated pilot funding to priority projects to support the recovery of the Victorian health system from the impact of COVID-19, and we are working on the responses for ‘High value care’; ‘Virtual care’; and ‘Healthcare workforce impacts’.

In addition to numerous partnerships with individual local government areas and health services, we also supported the  Victorian Healthcare Association to deliver a series of COVID-19 sector forums to identify how we can support sector recovery and identify what is needed to embed changes to build a more resilient and sustainable health system.

Reimagining the future with VicHealth

Professors Anna Peeters and Tony La Montagne were delighted to be keynote presenters in the VicHealth Life and Health Reimagined series exploring the future of health post COVID-19. This builds on the Institute’s long-standing partnership with VicHealth, which has seeded many collaborative projects over the past three years.

Anna and Tony were among a range of local and international guests focusing on how to create a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable Victoria – for everyone.

Professor Tony La Montagne: How can we reshape work to benefit everyone?

This presentation explored some of the stark inequities uncovered by the COVID-19 pandemic that can be addressed in creating a different future. The discussion focused on creating safe and healthy workplaces that can enable sustainable work and life balance while also balancing work with shared social, health, and environmental benefits.

Watch the discussion: Life and Health Re-imagined – Getting back to work

Read the paper: Getting back to work – How can we reshape work to benefit everyone?

Professor Anna Peeters: Where do we go next with prevention?

This presentation highlighted some of the priorities for prevention of chronic disease and promotion of wellbeing emerging from our experiences throughout the pandemic.

Watch the discussion: Where next with prevention?

Read the paper: Where do we go next with prevention?

Supporting access to mental health services during the pandemic

The Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research (QPS) continues to develop its long-standing partnerships with health services in Victoria.   Jointly funded Chairs in Nursing and/or Midwifery are embedded at six major health services who together service more than three million Victorians annually. The partnership arrangement has resulted in mutually beneficial research activity, as well as facilitated important connections to the sector to support teaching and clinical placements.

One of these health services is Barwon Health,  and our partnership continued to grow and flourish throughout 2020, particularly with our common interest in promoting equitable access to health services in regional areas.

The diversity of projects across disciplines continues to expand, with the Institute partnering with Barwon Health on multiple initiatives to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. This includes a joint program to advance evidence-based, person-centred mental health service improvements through the Change to Improve Mental Health (CHIME) Translational Research Partnership.

During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barwon Health Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Services and Deakin worked together to provide videoconferencing telehealth for mental health service consumers to enable their continuity of care. The Institute’s Deakin Health Economics researchers, together with QPS and Deakin Psychology, were commissioned to conduct an evaluation to investigate the uptake, feasibility and acceptability of these telehealth services.

This evaluation found the majority of consumers described telehealth as an important service platform during COVID that enabled them to commence or continue treatment and support their recovery. Overall, consumers expressed support for a blended service approach incorporating both face to face and telehealth options.

More information: Evaluation of transition to telehealth models at Barwon Health mental health services

GLOBE cements its place in WHO history

In 2020, the Institute’s Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE)  became the longest serving World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHOCC)  for obesity prevention, with its status reconfirmed until April 2024.

The is the fifth consecutive time GLOBE has been re-designated a WHOCC, marking  more than 20 years of international research collaboration for the Centre that is at the forefront of the daily fight to help men, women and children lead healthier, happier lives.

GLOBE’s Director, Professor Steven Allender, said the renewed status made GLOBE the longest serving WHOCC in the area of obesity prevention world-wide. The Centre was first designated as a collaborating centre in 2003.

More information: Global Obesity Centre now longest serving WHOCC


Professor Trisha Dunning AM received one of three Diabetes Australia Outstanding Achievement Awards on World Diabetes Day for the ‘huge contribution’ she has made to improving the quality of life for people with diabetes in Australia, and health professional education and standards. As part of World Diabetes Day celebrations, Trisha was  awarded the Federation of European Nurses in Diabetes (FEND) 25th Anniversary Recognition Award for her significant contributions to diabetes care, research, and education. Trisha was also honoured with a Diabetes Victoria annual scholarship in her name to launch the future stars of diabetes research.

The GLOBE Grocery Tracker, an app to track food purchases with automated coding of grocery receipts and data collation and storage, developed between A/Prof Kathryn Backholer and Deakin IT students, won an Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) Victorian iAward for ‘Education and student solution of the year’. Watch the team’s pitch video.

Narelle Robertson, A/Prof Gary Sacks and Professor Peter Miller won Best Paper Award at the  PHRP Excellence Awards  for their influential  research paper  on the ‘revolving door’ between government and the alcohol, food and gambling industries.

Dr Rebecca Patrick was nominated to President and Chair of the  Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA). Established in 2010, CAHA is a national coalition of health care stakeholders working together to address the threat to human health from climate change and ecological degradation through advocacy and policy action.

Christina Zorbas, Alexandra Chung, Dr Anna Ugalde, Dr Anna Chapman, the ACE-Obesity Policy team of Ms Jaithri Ananthapavan, A/Prof Gary Sacks, Dr Vicki Brown, Ms Phuong Nguyen, Dr Anita Lal, Devorah Riesenberg, Ha Le, Olumuyiwa Omonaiye, Dr Lan Gao, Dr Long Le, A/Prof Kathryn Backholer and A/Prof Melissa Bloomer were announced as winners and highly commended in the Institute for Health Transformation’s inaugural Future Leader Awards for Academic Excellence.


Media coverage across different outlets is vital to increasing the impact of our work, building the reputation of our researchers and reinforcing the Institute’s role in transforming the design and delivery of prevention and care.

During 2020, the intense media focus on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic placed the Institute’s Professor Catherine Bennett in the spotlight as her expertise and unbiased commentary made her a favourite with media nationally and internationally. Other Institute experts were also featured in COVID-19 related news coverage, evaluating the implications of lockdowns, end of life care during a pandemic and opportunities to improve policies and our healthcare systems. Institute researchers also worked hard to keep other important health issues, such as obesity prevention, support for people with disability, mental health and the effects of climate change on health, in the headlines.

In the first three months of 2020, media coverage focused on the population health impacts of unhealthy diets. A/Prof Kathryn Backholer was quoted in the Herald Sun on the role of price promotions for unhealthy drinks over the festive season in unhealthy weight gain, and A/Prof Gary Sacks wrote Don’t believe the myths – taxing sugary drinks makes us drink less of it for The Conversation. Research from GLOBE labelling Melbourne a ‘food swamp’ drew attention from the Herald Sun and local papers, and a study investigating the costs of obesity inequality on the health system was also covered.

By April, researchers across the Institute were contributing to the debate and discussion on COVID-19. Professor Samantha Thomas featured in a number of online, print, radio and TV interviews around the country, including Channel 10’s  The Project, SBS, ABC, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Conversation discussing the impact of COVID-19 on gambling habits and online gambling. Professor Catherine Bennett provided expert comment on a range of COVID-related issues, from hygiene to herd immunity to coronavirus modelling and lifting of restrictions. A/Prof Melissa Bloomer published pieces in HelloCare about How to start a Conversation About End of Life Care and in Aged Care Insite about what the outbreak of COVID-19 reveals about palliative care in aged care. Institute Director Professor Anna Peeters commented in The Australian on the COVID-19 telehealth boom and shared some tricks for taking effective work breaks while you’re at home in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In May, a combination of Professor Catherine Bennett’s regular comments on COVID-19 and the release of the Inside our Supermarkets 2020 report by A/Prof Gary Sacks and his team delivered considerable media coverage for the Institute. Gary also co-authored one of three Institute pieces in The Conversation for the month, Supermarkets claim to have our health at heart. But their marketing tactics push junk foods, while Professor Tracey Bucknall co-authored Are thermal cameras a magic bullet for COVID-19 fever detection? There’s not enough evidence to know and Professor Bodil Rasmussen, Emeritus Professor Maxine Duke and A/Prof Martin Hensher wrote The ‘hospital in the home’ revolution has been stalled by COVID-19. But it’s still a good idea. Professor Elizabeth Manias provided commentary on looking after our wider health during COVID-19 and Professor Anna Peeters and Professor Trish Livingston and Martin Hensher had articles appear in MJA Insight+.

With the reopening of many pokies venues in June, Professor Samantha Thomas received coverage on ABC News and Professor Catherine Bennett wrote the first of many pieces for The Conversation, discussing the potential for uncounted coronavirus deaths in Australia. Catherine’s opinion was also sought on a range of topics from blood donations to border closures, crowds at AFL games and the potential of a second wave of the COVID-19 virus in Victoria. A/Prof Gary Sacks received extensive coverage on the impact of junk food social media marketing on Australian kids on the back of another piece for The Conversation, Social media platforms need to do more to stop junk food marketers targeting children. Institute researchers also had a number of articles published in MJA Insight Plus and Deakin disruptr, including Associate Professor Angela Dew and colleagues and Professor Cathy Mihalopoulos.

July saw continued media coverage for Professor Catherine Bennett in national and international media outlets on a range of topics, from maintaining social distancing to mandatory mask wearing. Dr Karen Wynter was interviewed for an article titled ‘An alchemic awakening’ in the July issue of the Mindful Parenting Magazine sold in supermarkets and received coverage in the Geelong Advertiser and Essential Baby for her research into new dads and sleep deprivation. Professor Sharon Brennan-Olsen co-authored an article on Indigenous mental health research and COVID-19 in MJA Insight+ and Alfred Deakin Professor Tracey Bucknall and her co-authors’ May The Conversation article about thermal cameras was quoted in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

Professor Catherine Bennett continued to be sought after for expert comment on the COVID-19 pandemic throughout August and penned several opinion pieces for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, including  How Victoria can drive the coronavirus out and Stage four lockdown offers a chance to find our path out. Professor Anna Peeters was also in The Age, providing expert comment in People need to change their behaviour to stop COVID. How do you make them? Dr Amie O’Shea appeared on an Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability podcast to talk about her research with LGBTIQA+ people with disability and Associate Professor Genevieve Pepin gave an interview to a sister station of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for its evening news ‘Le Québec maintenant’, covering the latest COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on allied health, particularly occupational therapy, and higher education.

In September, Professor Cathy Mihalopoulos, A/Prof Martin Hensher and Professor Catherine Bennett wrote an opinion piece for The Age Lockdown is working, but is it excessive? about health economists and epidemiologists using QALYs to inform policy debates and decisions. Catherine also provided other opinion pieces for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, including Dropping cases should lead to a ‘common-sense’ rethink on opening up and Steps out will be incremental, frustrating, even arbitrary and appeared on Sunrise (Seven network), The Today Show (Nine network) and the 7.30 Report (ABC). A/Prof Melissa Bloomer and Dr Stéphane Bouchoucha continued to receive coverage for their work on COVID end-of-life care, publishing Patients with COVID-19 shouldn’t have to die alone. Here’s how a loved one could be there at the end in The Conversation. They also appeared on JOY 94.9 radio to talk about their research. A/Prof Adrian Cameron and the EatWell@IGA project were featured in a VicHealth article and the work of Alfred Deakin Professor Marj Moodie and others was referenced in NCDs Club … We don’t want your membership; no more a silent killer in the Fiji Times.

October was another busy month for Professor Catherine Bennett as she appeared in radio, print, online and regular television interviews for programs like ABC News Channel, Channel 7’s Sunrise and Channel 10’s The Project. Her daily interviews for media outlets including The Age, The Herald Sun, The New Daily, The Guardian, and 3AW, ABC Radio, Sky News and Ticker TV covered topics as diverse as Melbourne’s lockdown to thunderstorm asthma and mask wearing to how to have a COVID-safe Halloween. She produced two opinion pieces for The Age – Now we’re opening up, testing and contact tracing really matters and Five-kilometre rule, five-person household groups don’t quite add up – and three for The Conversation: Melbourne is almost out of lockdown. It’s time to trust Melburnians to make their own COVID-safe decisions; A 14-day rolling average of 5 new daily cases is the wrong trigger for easing Melbourne lockdown. Let’s look at ‘under investigation’ cases instead; and Where did Victoria go so wrong with contact tracing and have they fixed it? She also co-wrote an opinion piece COVID success will only come when Premier trusts the public for The Age with Professor Tony LaMontagne, Melbourne University’s Professor Joe Torresi and University of Oxford’s Emeritus Professor Terry Dwyer. A/Prof Martin Hensher featured in a BMJ podcast about Universal Basic Income and Job Guarantee proposals and COVID-19, and Dr Rebecca Patrick was quoted in an article syndicated across a number of publications about a national survey on climate change and eco-anxiety.

In November, Professor Catherine Bennett appeared in radio, print, online and regular television interviews and penned several opinion pieces, including What is behind Victoria’s suppression success, and will it last? for The Age and South Australia’s 6-day lockdown shows we need to take hotel quarantine more seriously for The Conversation. Catherine’s appearance to give evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s contact tracing was also covered in the media. Work by A/Prof Professor Kathryn Backholer, Alexandra Chung, Christina Zorbas, Devorah Reisenberg and Ruby Brooks on policies to restrict unhealthy food advertising on government-owned assets gained wide media coverage, especially across Western Australia, where the work supported an advocacy campaign in the lead up to the State election: WA health experts call for end to junk food advertising on government property and Ban junk food ads on public transport and other WA Government property, health agencies say. Professor Tony LaMontagne’s role in the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre-led project on mental health support for small businesses made the news in Business research centre funded for mental health training and Funding boost for small-business advisors’ mental health training.

As the year drew to a close, there was no respite for Professor Catherine Bennett, who continued her expert COVID-19 commentary on radio, TV and print on topics ranging from mandatory mask wearing to waste water testing to the UK’s COVID vaccine rollout. A/Prof Gary Sacks and his colleagues were back in the news for their research on the extent and potential impact of food industry involvement in research, with coverage in MedicalXpress and the NT News.


It’s time for a conversation about healing our healthcare

We were delighted to launch our Healing Health podcast series in 2020. Featuring leading researchers from the Institute, the series explores some of the biggest issues facing our health systems and the best ways to deliver prevention and care. The podcast aimed to contribute to the conversation about health systems, particularly in relation to systems thinking and determinants of health outside the health sector. It was also designed to increase awareness of the Institute and its researchers and promote engagement with listeners both internally and externally.

Launched externally in October 2020, Healing Health received more than 500 downloads in total across all the platforms where it was available (Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts, IHeartRadio and Spreaker).

Research outcomes

Financial report