The Fred Hollows Foundation welcomes $620m regional package for health in Pacific and Southeast Asia

Dr Mundi Qoqonokana conducting eye surgery at an outreach in Labasa, Fiji with the Pacific Eye, an initiative of The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ

The Fred Hollows Foundation in both Australia and New Zealand have warmly welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of $620 million funding for health systems in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

Announced on Thursday 23 February 2023, the Partnerships for a Healthy Region program will be delivered over the next five years (2023-27) and support five broad areas:
• Communicable disease prevention and control including the development of vaccines, and surveillance and control of diseases such as trachoma, the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness ($350 million);
• Non-communicable disease prevention and control such as diabetes ($50 million);
• Strengthening health systems and making them more resilient ($53 million);
• Cross-cutting priorities such as supporting gender equity ($10 million); and
• Sexual and reproductive health and rights ($157 million).

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Australia CEO Ian Wishart said that this was great news for the region and demonstrates an appreciation by the Australian Government of the health challenges being faced by governments and citizens in our geographic neighbourhood. Importantly, it includes a commitment to tackling both communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases both of which threaten health security.

“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.

*Health Expert Advisory Committee members:
• Australia Council for International Development (ACFID)
• The Fred Hollows Foundation
• Australian Global Health Alliance
• Burnet Institute
• 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

Note all figures in Australian $.