Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Each year 34,000 mothers and over 400,000 children under the age of five years will die in our immediate region. These figures increase to 200,000 mothers and 3.2 million children if we include all of South Asia. The mothers die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth; the children from largely preventable causes.
Australia’s aid in the region has made a significant contribution to the health outcomes in many countries and this will increase with the improved AusAID health policies and initiatives of the Rudd government. The government has pledged to increase overseas development assistance from 0.3 to 0.5 percent of the gross national income by 2015. This funding will in part support our neighbours, through the Pacific partnerships, to meet the Millennium Development Goals. The 2008-09 budget allocated an increase of eight percent expenditure on health issues influencing millennium development goal outcomes. As a member of ASEAN this financial year Australia is committed to nearly $1 billion in bilateral and regional development for the East Asia region.
All countries need to have an effective health system at the community and district levels to ensure a continuum of care for women and children before, during and after pregnancy; access to information and services to prevent and treat infectious diseases such as AIDS and TB; and of course the best treatment of common health needs as they arise.
Australia recently joined the International Health Partnership, which aims to increase the coordination and level of support in the health aid arena as well as increase mutual accountability between developing countries and donors. The International Health Partnership will assist developing countries to develop and implement effective health plans to provide essential services to all.
Our budget allocated $8 million to address inadequate access to clean water and sanitation in many developing countries, a critical factor in the health and wellbeing of the population. An improvement in the management of water resources and sanitation will lead to better health outcomes, especially for the poor, the majority of whom are women and children, because of the reduced risks of infection and transmission of disease. Priority must be given to services for adolescent girls, pregnant women and young children. Around the world almost 10 million children under the age of five die each year, two million of these in the first day of their life and a further two million in the first month of life. About 500,000 women die in childbirth. Girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than a woman in her 20s.
In June 2008 the Prime Minister announced a program to improve maternal and child health in eastern Indonesia. This program, worth $49 million, will make childbirth safer by increasing access to trained midwives, improving management of maternal and child health services and providing better community support for expectant and new mothers. Better education of communities about public health and better community support can result in significant health improvements for everyone.
In 2008-09 Australia also increased its assistance to the most vulnerable in society, those who are disabled, often through causes that are avoidable. This development assistance program will pilot various approaches to better eye and vision care, including the number of qualified eye care specialists, and reduce the impact of treatable blindness.
Despite some gains we are still going backwards in our struggle against HIV-AIDS. Although new infections have dropped and the number of people in treatment has doubled, two million people have died of AIDS and its complications. More needs to be done so that people at high risk of infection are receiving prevention information and advice. Australia is working in a collaborative project with Thailand on HIV and nutrition. This takes the form of nutritional advice to HIV patients and the tracking of the progress they then make. Improved nutritional intake has the potential to extend the period prior to the patient needing to access more expensive drugs. It is believed this has the potential to save millions on the Thai health budget. A 2008 UK report called Achieving universal access cites Thailand’s experience that ‘every $1 spent on HIV prevention generated $43 of savings a decade later by avoiding the need for expensive AIDS treatment services’. Australia ‘s $200 million to strengthen the key United Nations development agencies will go some way to assisting in their important work.
I would like to place on record my congratulations to the Rudd government, to the minister and to his parliamentary secretaries for their increased commitment to improving our overseas aid contribution.