The Commonwealth’s decision to allocate additional funds to global COVID-19 vaccination and broader health efforts has been welcomed by the Pacific Friends of Global Health.
However, further commitment will be necessary to meet the urgency of the world’s needs to address the pandemic and restore progress against major infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
Pacific Friends warmly welcomes the additional $85 million to the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment to help vaccine access in the world’s 92 poorest countries, and hopes to see this built upon with further contributions at the COVAX summit on 8 April.
The Budget outlines an overall increase of $77 million in spending to global health programs through institutions such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, COVAX, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, and the extension of the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security for another 5 years at $375 million.
Temporary and targeted pandemic support measures for the region have also been extended, including a further $314 million package for Pacific and Timor-Leste to address the ongoing economic and social costs of the pandemic in the region.
However Pacific Friends chair, Professor Brendan Crabb AC, said the overall scale of global health need had not been adequately addressed, with the baseline Overseas Development Aid budget only increasing from $4 billion to $4.09 billion.
“Around a third of the world’s population in low-income countries remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, and addressing this remains an urgent priority of G20 nations. This is not just for their sake but for our own, as low vaccination has proved fertile ground for the formation of new variants and as we’ve seen with Delta and Omicron, these substantially impact our economy as well as our health. The budget recognises this need and the ‘investment’ nature of vaccinating the world, but substantially more than is allocated will be needed in the year ahead.
“Since the turn of the century the world has made profound strides against major diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. But that progress has been seriously disrupted by COVID and now hangs in precarious balance,” Professor Crabb said.
“For the first time in a decade we have gone backwards in our efforts against tuberculosis for example. Deaths attributable to TB are now rising for the first time in a decade.
“Additional investment is critical to getting back on track and lifting the overall burden of disease. That investment is needed on multiple fronts, including COVID-19 vaccination, and to strengthen health systems to prevent and treat major infectious diseases, and to ensure countries are better prepared for any new pandemic in the future.
“Temporary and targeted measures ignore the reality of fighting pandemics and epidemics. Sustained progress demands sustained and predictable investment. By building stronger systems for health in our region and beyond we are investing for a more prosperous, stable and healthy world.
“While we welcome the additional measures outlined in the Budget, the truth is Australia is capable of greater investment. With more, we can do more.”