Good morning and thank you Norman for the introduction.
I acknowledge Senator Penny Wong, my Cabinet colleagues Greg Hunt, Simon Birmingham, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Jane Prentice. In fact, there are so many Members of the Coalition here but also from the Labor Party, Catherine King, Terri Butler and others, Richard Di Natale. I think the fact there are so many Members of Parliament from all sides indicates the support there is across the Parliament for this vital work. In that regard I particularly want to acknowledge the work of Senator Dean Smith for his extraordinary advocacy over the last few months in relation to same sex marriage but also in relation to this issue of HIV/AIDS. So Dean thank you on behalf of everyone here today for the work you’ve done in recent months, thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to be here again to mark World AIDS Day because this continues to be a significant challenge globally and in our region.
The WHO estimates that 70 million people have been infected with HIV, 35 million have died. This is, and has been, an epidemic of extraordinary proportions but the good news is that progress is being made.
If we take the period from 2000 to 2016, the number of new cases has reduced by 39 per cent and that’s due to a whole range of reasons but one major factor is the cost of treatment, and again between that period of 2000 to today the cost of anti-retroviral drugs has fallen from US$10,000 to under US$100, meaning that treatment is available more broadly, more cheaply, to many more people.
I’ve always believed that Australia is most effective in tackling global challenges, and playing our part in tackling global challenges, if we do it in partnership. One partnership which I’m particularly pleased to be a part is with Global Fund and we have invested $220 million into the work of Global Fund in the fight against HIV, TB, malaria, and through Australia’s advocacy and urging, about $640 million of that Global Fund amount is going to be directed to our region. Australia is contributing $220 million, $640 million is coming back to be invested in our region, because that really is the frontline in so many instances in the fight against HIV, TB, malaria.
To complement the work that we’re doing with Global Fund I’m pleased to announce today that the Australian Government will enter into a new partnership with UNAIDS specifically on the issue on the fight against HIV - $22.5 million over the next few years to support UNAIDS in its work to increase our ability to fight this epidemic HIV.
Of course it doesn’t stop there. We are focussing on ensuring that our region can be as resilient as possible.
At the last election we announced that we would establish a Regional Health Security Strategy. This was in the wake of crisis like Ebola but also to focus on whether our regional health systems - that is the public health systems in countries in our region - were resilient enough to take up the fight against communicable diseases or were resilient enough to resist any new and emerging epidemic or pandemic and I think you’ll agree there are serious concerns about our regional health security.
True to our word we dedicated $300 million to a Regional Health Security Strategy. Part of that is building the capability of public health departments in countries in our region and we do that through capacity building of health professionals, working with the health departments of governments in our region. That will include having Australian professionals spending time working in those health departments throughout the region and in this way we will hopefully build the resilience, the capacity of those countries, to resist these new and emerging and re-emerging communicable diseases.
As part of that we set up a Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security and this will be a research centre dedicated to new, emerging, re-emerging communicable diseases and infectious disease. I hope in that way we will certainly add our expertise to this collective approach to do what we can to eradicate or treat these diseases. There are also so many other initiatives across Government where we are supporting and complementing the work that we do directly on the fight against HIV.
For example, through our Australian Volunteers for International Development program, we have Australian volunteers working, for example, in Nepal. Stephen Mussig one of our volunteers is working with a Nepalese NGO on treating people with HIV in Nepal.
I’m sure you’re all aware of our New Colombo Plan. This is an Australian Government initiative giving the opportunity to undergraduates in all of our universities to live and study and work in numerous disciplines in 40 locations throughout the Indo-Pacific and they can be studying and working in law or business or tourism or architecture, you name it. A number of our students are in fact working in the health field and specifically in relation to HIV/AIDS. One great example, one great case study is Cecilia Prowd, a Monash University student who has won a New Colombo Plan Scholarship to work on HIV research in Thailand.
Across Government initiatives, across programs in our overseas development assistance, we are focusing on supporting the fight against HIV.
Our near and dear neighbour, PNG, has a particularly high incidence of HIV. In fact, it affects something like 0.9 per cent of the population compared with less than 0.2 per cent here in Australia – something like 46,000 people in PNG are living with HIV. We are working closely with the PNG Government to build the capacity of their Health Department. It’s also gratifying to see the work of NGOs and some great case studies. Catholic Church Health Services are providing support to about 40 per cent of those with HIV in PNG and one of their clinics St Joseph in a suburb of Port Moresby is providing testing, counselling and treatment services all at the same place, which in PNG is very important given the geographic challenges. NGOs, governments are working together to ensure that we can assist those living with aids and we can assist those and to ensure that the infection doesn’t increase around the world.
Just on one final note, I’ve been handed an invitation to the International AIDS Conference to be held in Amsterdam in July next year, 2018, and it was rather a poignant moment to receive that because I well remember the 2014 Conference to be held in Melbourne. So many of the delegates and participants in that conference were all on the MH17, the Malaysian Airlines flight to take them from Amsterdam to Melbourne, which of course was brought down over Ukraine and all of the passengers and crew on board were killed. That was a deeply tragic moment for us all but particularly for the AIDS community and researchers who had dedicated their lives to this cause.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is important that each year we mark World AIDS Day. I’m pleased that the Australian Government has continued to support this cause and now I look forward to our new partnership with UNAIDS, on top of the work that we’re doing to complement what is a bipartisan effort in the Australian Parliament and most certainly a cause that we will uphold for years to come until we can say that there is no longer a need for World AIDS Day.
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