Thank you Fiona for your introduction and can I thank you all for being here today. Can I also start by adding my acknowledgment of country. There are a few acknowlegments which I would also like to make - to the National Health and Medical Research Council, to the Fiji Ministry of Health, to the Kirby Institute and of-course the University of New South Wales, but most importantly to everyone here for looking ahead and preparing to avoid or minimise the potentially devastating impact that such an epidemic can have.
Now your workshop on biosecurity in the Pacific has never been more critical or more relevant today.
Now the risks that we do face are very real.
The World Health Organisation has told us that it is a not a case of if, but a case of when, another major pandemic will strike.
This could devastate communities through loss of life, disrupt tourism, trade, investment and people movement, setting back regional economic growth and development.
Our countries are now inextricably linked – particularly in this day and age of easy travel.
In 2017 alone, around 5 million Australians visited South East Asia and the Pacific Island countries.
Just to give you one statistic; for example in Fiji – Fiji has about 750,000 visitors every year. Half of those come from Australia.
Now that is why your workshop over the past 2 days has been incredibly important.
After your hard work in a difficult field, I am pleased to say that Australia’s commitment on this critical issue is bipartisan and it is an enduring one.
It is a commitment we share with our international partners, as expressed in our collective commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 3d, which is to:
“strengthen the capacities of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks”.
Now our recent Foreign Policy White Paper reinforces the importance of Australia’s development assistance as a powerful tool to support a stable, secure and prosperous region.
As the White Paper states, the Indo-Pacific’s rising prosperity has been built on the region’s stability.
This is the part of the world where Australia has the most at stake, and we believe, the most to offer.
Indeed, of our approximately $4.2 billion development assistance programme, 90% of country programming is spent in the Indo-Pacific region.
We are particularly focused on the Pacific Island countries, our partners in our Pacific neighbourhood.
As was said in the panel discussion just as I was arriving, yes we are neighbours but we have the biggest house in the street so for us it is really important that we do prepare for all sorts of contingencies, including the sort of contingencies you are talking about today. Why? Because the Pacific, our neighbourhood, is of fundamental importance to Australia.
We have deep and personal ties with the Pacific. We have strong family connections. Australia’s Pacific diaspora, is about140,000 strong, and it is not only makes up this very strong bond with the Pacific but of course it is an important national asset for us.
The complexity of the region’s challenges demands deeper engagement, so that we can solve those common problems together and build wellbeing and opportunity together.
Stepping up support for a more resilient Pacific is one of the five priorities for Australia’s foreign policy, as we set out in our 2017 White Paper.
We are committed to closer economic links which will boost prosperity; we are committed to closer security ties to underpin wellbeing and maintain that prosperity; and of-course the strong community ties that I mentioned earlier.
It is the quality of the relationship between the peoples of the Pacific that will determine how well we succeed in the work that we do together.
At last year’s Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting, our Prime Minister announced a series of new initiatives.
One of the most important was stepping up our efforts to meet our shared health security objectives.
For decades, Australia has been the primary bilateral partner for Pacific Island countries in building their health systems.
Our official development assistance in the Pacific will reach a record level this year, of $1.3 billion. 13% of that will go to the health sector.
In addition to supporting the overall capacity of the health systems, we focus our assistance on areas that Pacific governments identify as priorities, such as maternal and child health services; disease control; and addressing non-communicable disease as part of primary health care, and by controlling tobacco and regulating unhealthy food.
In 2016, the Turnbull Government committed to investing $100 million over five years to establish a regional health security partnerships fund.
Last year, the Turnbull Government not only met this commitment, but exceeded it by an additional $200 million.
This $300 million Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific Region includes the largest health and medical research commitment ever made under Australia’s overseas development assistance program.
And of that $300 million, we have already committed more than $90 million in research to tackle specific health security challenges in our region.
By trebling our original commitment to regional health security this government recognises that substantial funding, expertise and vision is required to manage the major health threats that we all now face.
This Initiative is administered by Australia’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security and takes a holistic approach to complex challenges.
It brings together officers of the departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Health, as well as our scientific, medical and agricultural research agencies.
Its remit is to contribute to the avoidance and containment of infectious disease threats that could cause harm on a national, regional or global scale.
Already, under this Initiative, we have expanded our research partnerships.
We are accelerating the development of new malaria and tuberculosis drugs and our efforts to control mosquitoes.
Our action on these diseases is critical for our regional security, stability and prosperity.
Despite being curable, TB is the world’s top infectious disease killer. In 2016, about 1.7 million people died; that’s almost 4,700 each day. In addition, 10.4 million people fell ill; about 28,500 every day. Every 18 seconds someone dies of TB.
By the end of my speech today, 69 people will have passed away from a preventable disease.
12 of the world’s 30 highest TB burden countries are located in our region, accounting for nearly half of all cases of drug resistant TB and TB deaths worldwide.
Regrettably our nearest neighbor, Papua New Guinea is one of the hardest hit by TB.
With less than 4 kilometers separating PNG from Australia, failure to address TB in PNG puts Australia’s health security at risk, as well, of-course, as Papua New Guinea’s health risk.
In June last year, the Government announced a new partnership with the World Bank, targeting drug resistant TB in vulnerable communities in PNG.
And while TB continues to kill more people in PNG than any other infectious disease, Australia’s ongoing support has achieved significant results to date.
Completion of treatment for TB patients in Western Province’s capital of Daru has increased from only 65% in 2014 to more than 95% in 2016.
It is only one of the many programs we have in place.
Australia is directing support for TB through our bilateral development programs, multilateral funds and building strong national health care systems – both at home and overseas.
Now of-course research is absolutely critical to addressing TB.
Australia has pledged $220 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria over the years 2017 to 2019.
This has seen over 17 million people treated for TB, including over 8 million people in our Indo-Pacific region.
We have also provided $40 million since 2013 to research and innovation through Product Development Partnerships, which include the TB Alliance and the Foundation of Innovative New Diagnostics.
Our investments have supported breakthroughs such as the GeneXpert Omni, a portable TB diagnostic system that can deliver point-of-care testing in remote locations.
Last year we announced further funding to support the continuation of excellent outcomes of these Partnerships over the next 5 years.
Through trusted and world-class partners such as TB Alliance, FIND and te Medicines for Malaria Venture, we are supporting the development of the next generation of tools needed to fight these pernicious diseases – malaria and TB.
And for the first time, we are also funding the Innovative Vector Control Consortia – enabling them to expand their work on new mosquito vector control tools to the Indo-Pacific region.
In an inter-connected world, mosquito-borne diseases undermine the health and working capacity of hundreds of millions of people.
Approximately 40% of the world's population live in areas where there is a risk of dengue transmission.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 50 to 100 million infections occur yearly, including 500,000 cases of its severe form, Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever and 22,000 deaths, mostly amongst children.
In the last few years, there have been 30,000 suspected cases of dengue in Fiji, Vanuatu and Kiribati.
A mosquito bite remains a mosquito bite. I know – I am very prone to mosquito bites. They love me. If I walk into a room and there is a mosquito it will definitely find me - but it does not have to turn into a death sentence.
As a government and through the innovationXchange, we are providing up to $18 million over the next 4 years to the World Mosquito Program to conduct world leading trials in the control of the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
The Program has successfully transferred safe and natural bacteria called Wolbachia into the type of mosquito that transmits viruses including dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
The World Mosquito Program's Wolbachia method is not an emergency measure but is a long term, self-sustaining solution to significantly reduce the risk of future outbreaks in high-risk areas around the world.
The World Mosquito Program’s approach works by releasing mosquitoes with Wolbachia into a community.
Once mosquitoes breed with local mosquitos – the ones with Wolbachia in them, they pass the bacteria to their offspring.
Over time, these mosquitoes help to block the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya.
Now this has been a very successful programme. We are very proud of it. And it’s been successfully been deploying this method in countries across Latin America and Asia, with the support from our donors. This global programme is working in 13 different countries, in partnership with local universities, researchers, government agencies and communities.
And we are currently supporting pilots in four countries in the Indo-Pacific region, in Kiribati, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Sri Lanka with scoping continuing in Indonesia to confirm its participation.
For those of you who are Australian, of course the ABC ran a story on this the other evening. The government doesn’t get too many ticks from the ABC but I was very pleased to see that this one did get one. But of course, TB and dengue are health threats that we can combat together every day, but we must confront the possibility of far more virulent epidemics, whether naturally occurring, like SARS in 2003 or Ebola in 2014 or, an act of bio-warfare.
SARS alone caused global economic losses in the order of $40 billion US dollars.
It impacted people from 29 countries and directly caused the loss of 3 million jobs in the tourism sector alone in the most affected countries.
Strong health systems are critical in preparing and responding to biosecurity threats.
This is why Australia has increased our support for the World Health Organisation’s work with health systems in the Indo-Pacific.
We have provided $20 million to the WHO’s World Health Emergency Program for preparedness activities; $4 million for health outbreak responses; and a further $9.5 million as a founding member of the World Bank’s new Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility.
We have also established a Health Security Corps, which will place Australian public health professionals in the region to share their expertise.
As a result, in Fiji, an Australian Risk Communication Officer is working with communities so that they can identify and mitigate infectious disease risks and outbreaks.
Health Security Corps officers have also deployed to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and PNG to undertake work to strengthen laboratories, training and disease surveillance.
Also in Fiji, we will be supporting Australian and Fiji-based organisations to work together to combat water-borne infectious diseases such as typhoid.
Our Health Security Initiative also supports the global “One Health” agenda, which recognises that epidemics can only be contained if we work at the interface of human and animal health.
75% of all emerging infectious diseases are transmitted to humans from animals.
Australia also continues our long term partnerships with the Pacific Community and the World Health Organisation Office in Suva.
We support health systems in the Pacific Islands through our trade policy, too.
Through the Pacific trade agreement, PACER Plus, Australia aims to increase Pacific island country capacity to survey, manage and treat bio-security issues.
Australia and New Zealand have committed to help build the capacity of Pacific island country agencies responsible for sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures that promote and protect human animal and plant life and health.
We will also assist in building business awareness of sanitary principles and how to apply them in production and trade.
We also support Pacific Island countries to meet international health standards in their export industries.
For example, the European Union is the major destination for Solomon Islands’ tuna products and it imposes very stringent standards on tuna imports to ensure products are safe to eat and that the tuna has been legally caught.
Support from Australia and others ensures that the Solomon Islands is able to meet those standards.
We support the whole region to work together to strengthen health coordination, surveillance and response in the Pacific.
Regionally and internationally we now have the opportunity to work together even more to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
In 2015, Australia joined all other United Nations member states, including the Philippines, in committing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs.
Domestically we see the SDGs as a reflection of our values and ambitions - a contemporary manifestation of the Australian term a "fair go", a term that means a great deal to all Australians and something that we all know very well.
Australia recently delivered our first Voluntary National Review in July in New York, which identified our priorities to date and provided lessons on what we need to focus on to make sure that the 2030 Agenda remains on track.
As I mentioned earlier, the SDGs have opened up a valuable opportunity for the global community to rally together to achieve SDG 3 – Good Health and Well Being.
This reflects our values and ambitions to protect our citizens and those of our neighbours to ensure a safe, secure and prosperous region.
SDG 17 is about partnerships and the opportunity to work with each other on days like today.
It is great to see such a wide spectrum of stakeholders working together, from so many Pacific Island countries; Australia, New Zealand and the United States; as well as NGO partners including private hospitals and manufacturers of vaccines and pharmaceuticals.
Exercises like this one that you have just done are vital to help us prepare for events where the stakes are very, very high.
The workshop has provided an opportunity to test responses and identify gaps and vulnerabilities.
It has been an occasion to build relationships of collaboration and cooperation and to strengthen regional preparedness for a disease outbreak.
Can I once again commend the organisers and thank our hosts, the University of New South Wales.
Collaboration like this, across countries and with industry and research institutions, is precisely how health challenges of the future will be met, for the benefit of all the diverse communities spread across our very, very vast Pacific region.
Can I thank you all very much for your participation and for your kind attention.
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