Australia will seek to help restore health gains lost in Pacific and Southeast Asian nations through the pandemic, with the announcement of a five year, AU$620 million package known as Partnerships for a Healthy Region.
Drawing on Australian expertise and long-term relationships in the region, the package aims to better support these nations to anticipate and control communicable diseases, prevent non-communicable diseases, advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, and build stronger, more equitable, national health systems.
The bulk of the funding ($350 million) is allocated to communicable diseases and will fund programs for immunisation, infection control, disease surveillance and antimicrobial resistance. The remainder will expand Australia’s assistance to tackle non-communicable diseases – the number one cause of death worldwide – via funding for health promotion campaigns in areas such as alcohol, tobacco control and mental health, as well as screening for conditions such as diabetes, cervical cancer and heart disease.
The investment in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes will go a long way towards tackling diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults
The Fred Hollows Foundation welcomed the announcement with Australian CEO Ian Wishart stating that it demonstrates an appreciation by the Australian Government of the health challenges being faced by governments and citizens.
“This investment builds on the inroads Australia made in supporting our Pacific neighbours during the pandemic and will improve health outcomes and promote regional prosperity and stability,” Mr Wishart.
“The Indo-Pacific region suffers from a massive underinvestment in health care and the pandemic exposed the fragility of health care systems, impacting already marginalised people most significantly.
“Healthy communities drive social and economic growth, and we know eye health plays a huge part in providing autonomy for people. The investment in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes will go a long way towards tackling diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults.
“Partnerships for a Healthy Region will help countries we work in – such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia – to build the critical health workforce and primary health infrastructure they need to respond to health emergencies.
The announcement comes after a period of campaigning last year by the Health Expert Advisory Committee, a group of Australia’s respected health agencies* whose expertise and local partnerships can help guide and deliver this program.
Mr Wishart said the Committee was delighted to see its collaborative and sustained efforts had been heard, thereby making a contribution to this result, which was a win for Australia and the region.
“The Foundation is now encouraging DFAT to leverage the experience and local connections of NGOs and civil society partners to ensure this investment is responsive to local needs and delivers at the local level.”
The Fred Hollows Foundation’s NZ CEO Audrey Aumua also welcomed the news.
“The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has worked and supported Ministries of Health in many Pacific Island Countries for over 20 years, and we welcome the Partnerships for a Healthy Region announcement which will support the regions efforts to build locally-led, sustainable eye-health care programmes that are accessible to all,” Dr Aumua said.
The Australian Global Health Alliance and Pacific Friends of Global Health has strongly endorsed this renewed effort with Global Health Chair, Professor Brendan Crabb AC, commenting that the focus of the initiative was refreshing and innovative.
“This is a desperately needed and very welcome investment in the health of our neighbours who have been so impacted by the pandemic. But it is also an investment in our collective health; the pandemic laid bare just how interconnected we are,” Professor Crabb said.
“Professor Crabb said it was “very refreshing to see the Australian government emphasise the importance of partnership and collaboration. Ultimately, local communities are the greatest source of wisdom when it comes to health challenges. Working from the grassroots is the best way to effect lasting change”.
He added, “This package is a big step forward, especially in its explicit recognition that supporting gender equality, disability inclusion, First Nations engagement and addressing the health impacts of climate change will be crucial to success.. We look forward to working with the Australian Government in its quest to build a healthier region.”
*The Health Expert Advisory Group members are:
Australia Council for International Development (ACFID)
The Fred Hollows Foundation
Australian Global Health Alliance
The George Institute for Global Health
Nossal Institute for Global Health
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
Interplast Australia & New Zealand