Well thank you very, very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. Can I start by acknowledging you Minister, CEO, other distinguished guests, High Commissioner, ladies and gentleman.
Thank you for being patient and waiting. Yes, we have just got back from Ha’apai which was a marvellous trip. But I was able to see there first hand how Australian aid has been assisting the people of Tonga.
Australia is strongly committed to working with you to improve health care in Tonga through our Tonga Health Systems Support Program, a program that will deliver $22.4 million from 2009 to 2020.
Tonga’s non-communicable diseases situation is the most pressing issue facing the people of Tonga today, particularly in relation to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
I understand our joint work in combating NCDs is achieving good results and that obesity risk factors and smoking rates are falling and this is a notable achievement.
It has been good to see this first hand as we tour around and update on your progress.
Can I congratulate Tonga on the release of your five-year National Non-Communicable Diseases Strategy earlier this year and on hosting a successful Pacific NCD Summit in June.
Tonga’s community-based NCD nursing model, supported by Australia, has substantially improved screening and patient care and is being looked at for replication across the region.
But despite this good work, the battle against NCDs remains a health, social and economic challenge for both Tonga and the region. This was a key message at the NCD Summit.
The World Health Organisation tells us that 98% of Tonga’s adult population is at moderate to high risk of developing an NCD.
People with disabilities are at even greater risk of developing NCDs, due to increased behavioural risk factors, such as lack of physical activity and poor access to health services.
The rise in NCDs will continue to increase NCD-related disability rates and impact on mental health resulting in urgent need for rehabilitation and support services, for both disability and mental health.
I am pleased to announce that, through the Disability-Inclusive Development Fund Australia will contribute $3.2 million to the Ministry of Health, to help make health services in Tonga more inclusive of people with disabilities.
The additional funding will support work, delivered in partnership with disabled peoples organisations to increase access to mainstream health services, to pilot a national approach to community based rehabilitation and increase mental health support.
Building an inclusive health system will assist people with disabilities to live to their full potential and help ensure that our development efforts leave no one behind.
Can I conclude by saying how much we value our partnership with the Kingdom of Tonga and the Government of Tonga. May God bless this Kingdom and all her people.
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