Professor David Cooper, Fiona Docherty, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.  It is a great pleasure to be with you this morning to open this important symposium on Health research for development: How can we do better?

Can I start by also adding my acknowledgment to country and can I thank you Dr. Peter for your very warm welcome.

I am honoured to be here today amongst such eminent and dedicated professionals.

For thirty years, the Kirby Institute has been bringing together Australian and international experts working in fields of blood-borne diseases and related infections a leader in HIV and other infectious disease research.

Yours is a history of good science and collaborative partnerships at home and abroad and one that the Australian Government has been very pleased to support over many years.

The strength of the speakers assembled at this, your 4th Symposium,  is a testament to this success.

I want to particularly acknowledge the role that you Professor Cooper have played as the inaugural, and ongoing, Director of the Institute since 1986.

That is a truly a remarkable achievement, and can I take this opportunity to wish you a happy 30th birthday.

All of you here today understand the importance of health spending as part of our overseas development assistance.

However, whilst we have our $4 billion ODA program, it is not always easy for the public to see where all our investments go, or how they contribute to the big picture of building stability in our region. 

Indeed, surveys show that many Australians believe our ODA budget should reflect our tight budgetary environment.

Some Australians are asking whether we are spending money on our neighbours at a time when wealth relativities in the region are changing.

As a result, the paradigm within which we promote ODA has changed.

The question is no longer whether we are spending enough on international development, but why we are spending so much.

Hence, we need to make very clear the reasons why it is good government to require Australians to contribute to development abroad, and most especially, in the health space.

In short, we need to promote our work at home and abroad. 

We have not done well in taking the Australian public along with us.

We need to make clear what we are doing, why we are doing it, and more importantly, what is the benefit to Australia and we need to do this together. 

Everyone here knows that a breakdown of law and order in a fragile state can very quickly wipe out the progress made through decades of development work.

We know that the security and prosperity of other nations reduces risk in our international environment.

So it is good policy for the Australian Government to deploy our wealth, our skill and our goodwill to assist developing countries to achieve the inclusive, sustainable economic growth that produces peace, good health and prosperity.

It makes sense for us to focus this assistance on our region, where we have the most at stake.

Australia's ODA has a key role in promoting a safer, healthier and more stable neighbourhood and wider region.

This was clearly recognised in the 2016 Defence White Paper which identified Australia's immediate neighbourhood as our highest strategic priority after the defence of Australia.

Hence, 90% of our ODA is spent in our region – the Indo Pacific.

Aid complements our diplomatic, our trade, our defence and our policing efforts. 

Our support helps our regional partners to be peaceful, healthier, democratic, well governed and follow the rule of law.

We know the causes of instability and conflict are complex.

That is why Australia ensures its ODA is well targeted to where we make the biggest difference.

Australia has a $4 billion dollar overseas development assistance program of which health is a very important component.

In particular, our focus is on health systems so that women, men and children can live healthy and productive lives.

In 2015-2016, almost 15% of the overseas development assistance was invested in health.

I would now like to share with you some of our priorities in the health space, many of which are focused in the Asia Pacific area.

The Australian Government is takes a lead in response to transnational health challenges. 

The recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika have shown that infectious diseases can spread quickly across borders.

Australia provides support to the Pacific Community and the World Health Organisation to strengthen regional disease surveillance and response in the Pacific.

You will all be aware of the Australian Government's serious commitment to health research. 

The Coalition has a strong record in supporting science and research, investing around $10 billion a year. 

Our landmark Medical Research Future Fund is the single largest investment in medical research in Australia.

At home, we also invest through mechanisms such as the National Health and Medical Research Council. 

Health research is also an increasingly important part of Australia's international engagement and overseas development assistance.

For instance, the Australian Government's White Paper on Developing Northern Australia includes activities to support collaboration between Australian and international research institutions and countries in the region on tropical health research.

Last month I visited Darwin's Menzies School of Health Research to announce that the Australian Government would provide $2 million over two years to support research into the prevention, detection and treatment of multi-drug resistant malaria and TB. 

The Menzies School will work with the Burnet Institute as well as partners in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea to find new approaches to drug resistant TB and malaria.

And we are supporting health research through innovation.

For example, our $20 million contribution to the $130 million international partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, on Data for Health.

The partnership is working to build the capacity of governments in developing countries to collect and use vital health information to build better health systems.

Better health information leads to better health outcomes, which is why the partnership is focussed on improving data on births and deaths, conducting mobile phone surveys on health risk factors and improving the accessibility and use of health data.

Thanks to the work of Kirby and many others, the vacuum of knowledge about HIV-AIDS has passed. 

The nations of the world are now working toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal's target of ending the epidemic by 2030.

Today, the Asia Pacific region is home to the greatest number of people living with HIV outside of Africa – around 5 million in total.

And while new infections are down overall, almost 15 % of new HIV cases are emerging from our region – including almost 20,000 children in 2015.

A diverse range of cultural and environmental factors mean that access to antiretroviral therapy in our region is worryingly low compared with the global average.

Our development program is tackling this challenge with a balance of country-specific strategies and system-wide improvements, developed in partnership with governments in the region.

So while HIV-AIDS is better understood and treated these days, we still have a lot of work to do.

Of course HIV is no longer a single disease threat, to be treated in isolation.

The tendency toward co-infection, where HIV exacerbates or enables another infection, is a growing challenge, particularly in our region.

The prevalence of HIV co-infection with tuberculosis is deeply troubling, particularly in the context of increasing TB drug resistance.

Tuberculosis in the region has grown to be one of the most pressing health issues.

In Papua New Guinea, TB is a leading cause of death.

The Australian Government is working closely with the Government of PNG to combat this, including through a $60 million dollar program to improve TB control measures.

Our programs support an effective and coordinated response to drug resistant TB in Western Province and in the National Capital District of PNG.

Beyond PNG, the Pacific faces a set of health challenges which Australia is uniquely positioned to respond to. 

Non-communicable diseases account for the biggest share of the disease burden, responsible for 70 % of all deaths in the Pacific and a major source of disability.

Australia is supporting important innovations in the treatment of non-communicable diseases in the Pacific.

With Australia's support Tonga has created the first tranche of non-communicable disease (NCD) Specialist Nurses in the Pacific, and possibly the world.

I had the opportunity in September to meet some of these amazing doctors and nurses in Tonga, many of whom were trained in Canberra.

Approximately 98 % of Tonga's adult population is at moderate
to high risk of developing a non-communicable disease.

A new community-based nursing model in Tonga aims to improve identification of high risk patients and to provide assistance to prevent onset, and to help those diagnosed to get the care they need.

The program, which places specialist nurses at health centres and diabetes centres across the country, is dramatically improving screening and patient care and is being looked at for possible replication across the region. 

This is a great model of Australia working with those on the ground in the Pacific to affect better health outcomes.

Together we are tackling this challenge by providing practical assistance to health systems issues, like increasing the number of health workers, improving diagnosis, clinical management and treatment and building up health infrastructure and community education.

Throughout the region, our development program is investing in the health systems that support care where it's needed most.

We are also constantly looking at ways we can support and improve health outcomes through research and innovation.

The Australian Government recognises the central role research plays in improving health – which is why health innovation is an investment priority of our aid program.

We have invested, for example, in a range of Product Development Partnerships – or PDPs.

Research into the diseases of the developing world suffers from a lack of commercial incentives, so PDPs pool funds from philanthropic foundations and donor Governments like Australia to change this.

Australia is currently investing $30 million dollars over three years in three PDPs prioritising research into malaria, TB and new diagnostic methods.

These investments recognise Australia's leading edge in these three areas, and their importance to the region.

We have been thrilled with the results so far.

For example, late last year the TB Alliance, one of the PDPs that we fund, worked with Australia's Burnet Institute to produce the first ever child-friendly dosed TB treatment for children. 

This new treatment delivers a proper daily dose for a child with a fruit flavour when dissolved in a glass of water – a remarkable innovation.

The Australian Government provided assistance with trials of the treatment at Port Moresby General Hospital, and we are hoping this will evolve into a national roll out.

There is more in the pipeline too.

The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics or FIND, is working on a range of diagnostic tools, such as a portable battery operated diagnostic system for use in remote villages, and a simplified and sensitive test for both TB and drug-resistant TB.

We are hoping both innovations will be launched within the next 12 months.

Australia is also active in the international arena.

Many of you will be aware that Australia recently committed $220 million to the fifth replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

We made this investment because we have been encouraged by the Global Fund's performance in our region and around the world.

The fund is on track to have saved 10 million lives in our region and 22 million lives globally by the end of this year – a result almost as large as the population of Australia!

Supporting global health challenges is clearly in Australia's interest.

Polio remains an epidemic in just three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. 

Australia supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public private partnership which has helped reduce polio worldwide by over 99% since its launch in 1988. 

I was proud to be 'tweeting' to show our commitment to global polio eradication on World Polio Day last week!

Australia is also working with the World Bank to support the efforts of countries in our region to strengthen their routine immunisation systems and prevent polio re-emerging.

Australia also supports routine immunisation, including for polio through our contributions to the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. 

Australia is providing up to $36 million to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative over four years from 2015.

Everyone here is aware that the increasingly hyper-connected world increases the potential for infectious diseases to cause havoc.

In January 2016, analysts estimated1 the annual cost of pandemics at more than $60 billion dollars.

The potential health and economic impacts of a major disease outbreak on Australia, our neighbours, and our trading partners are severe, as are the potential consequences for regional trade, tourism and migration.

So Australia has an important role to play, building health assets, expertise, research and innovation for our own security and that of our neighbours in the region.

As part of the Coalitions recent election commitment we are developing a five-year, $100-million-dollar regional health security initiative, which will work to address these types of challenges. 

The details of this initiative are currently under development.

Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, let me again recognise the importance of the work this institute is doing.

The work you do saves lives in Australia and around the world.

This symposium has in the past been a fascinating opportunity to hear from the frontline of infectious disease research and I am certain this year will be no exception.

I want to wish you all the best for a stimulating discussion, and congratulate you again on 30 years of progress toward global and domestic health challenges.

 

1. The Commission on Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, Neglected Dimension of Global Security, The National Academy of Medicine, January 2016.

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