Now that the federal budget has been handed down, Australia’s eye health profession can breathe a sigh of relief… or can we?
Budget papers released on Tuesday 10 May indicate that the government has listened to nation-wide protests over rumoured cuts of up to AUD$400 million to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) has welcomed the decision by the Australian government to maintain medical research funding in the 2011-12 budget.
Professor Jonathan Crowston, Managing Director of CERA, said he is delighted. “Funding of Australian medical research is an investment that results in immeasurable returns for the community by improving health outcomes, reducing healthcare costs, and boosting the economy,” Professor Crowston said.
…the government’s commitment to AU$21.3 million over four years to continue the fight against avoidable blindness in our region is not enough
“It’s in everybody’s best interests to invest in medical research and I commend the government on making this important decision,” he said.
Prof. Crowston also welcomed news from the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler MP, who announced a strategic review of funding into Australia’s medical research sector in a bid to improve the system.
While for most in the profession, the funds allocated to eye health were positively received, Jennifer Gersbeck, Chief Executive Officer of Vision 2020 Australia, said there is one particular aspect that does need to be improved. She says the government’s commitment to AUD$21.3 million over four years to continue the fight against avoidable blindness in our region is not enough.
While the budget commitment to the next phase of the Avoidable Blindness Initiative is testament to the Australian Government’s leadership in this vital area, she said: “more funding is needed if we are going to achieve our goal to eliminate avoidable blindness in the Asia Pacific by 2020”.
Tackling avoidable blindness is a key step in efforts to eliminate poverty and is central to Australia’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Giving people sight transforms lives, and is one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to break the poverty cycle. With good eye sight, children can go to school, and adults can work, contribute to their communities and care for their families.
Under the Avoidable Blindness Initiative, a series of activities is currently being implemented across the Asia Pacific region by Vision 2020 Australia’s Global Consortium – a partnership of leading eye health and vision care organisations.
The Consortium’s first year of program implementation has provided an important demonstration of tangible, cost effective international development assistance. Thousands of lives have already been changed by the project’s multifaceted approach to improving eye care through operations, training, outreach to remote areas and the development of eye health infrastructure.
In Cambodia, for example, a total of 38,000 eye health consultations took place in the first year of the Consortium’s programs. Over 7600 sight-restoring cataract surgeries were performed, 2000 people screened for refractive error and almost 500 received spectacles.
This AUD$21.3 million budget allocation will fund Phase 2 of the Initiative, which will include the expansion of current programs and the development of new programs in areas with the greatest need. The activities will strengthen health systems in countries across the Asia Pacific, thereby enhancing the capacity of governments and organisations to address their own eye health needs in years to come.
For more on partners of the Vision 2020 Australia’s Global Consortium see the feature in this issue of mivision from page 32.