JULIE BISHOP: I am delighted to welcome all delegates here to Melbourne, the most liveable city on the planet, to this inaugural Malaria World Congress. Among the many esteemed delegates, please allow me to acknowledge Sir Puka Temu, the Minister for Health from Papua New Guinea, indeed, a medical practitioner who has spent some time working in hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney, welcome Sir Puka. Ken Staley, the US Global Malaria Eradication Coordinator, appointed by the US President - we are delighted to have our friends from the United States here as well.
We are particularly proud to host this Congress, for Australia is deeply committed to achieving the goal of the elimination of malaria, once and for all. The people in this room gathered here today can help us achieve that goal. In fact, the people in this room are key to ensuring we can eliminate malaria.
Where do we stand? According to the latest WHO report in 2017 in 2016 there were 216 million cases of malaria worldwide, 450,000 deaths. 44 countries reported less than 10,000 cases, two more countries were declared malaria-free and 21 countries were identified as having the potential to be malaria-free by 2020. Of those 21 countries, Paraguay was declared malaria-free this year on the 11th of June.
Geographically, the global attention on efforts to eliminate malaria focus on sub-Sahara Africa but as you are here in Melbourne I want to stress that our region, the Indo-Pacific, also demands global attention. According to the WHO India accounts for 60 per cent of all cases outside sub-Sahara Africa and progress is being made. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Timor-Leste are all showing significant progress in decreasing malaria mortality. There is some good news - Maldives, Sri Lanka and a province in Vanuatu have been declared malaria-free.
China is making significant progress from 5,000 cases in 2010 to zero last year. China is on track to be declared malaria-free by 2020.
In PNG, a country of 8 million people, WHO reports in 2016 there were 1.9 million cases with 6,000 deaths. The Greater Mekong has become the epicentre of drug resistant threats and it has the potential to set back progress being made. In fact, the WHO has reported that progress in eliminating malaria stalled last year and some countries are reporting an increase in the rate in the incidents.
There is no time for complacency. In fact, this Congress is timely because we need to reassess our efforts. We need to reassess our ideas, our expertise, our experience, to see real progress being made once more.
In terms of prevention, much is being achieved. Through the 2013-2016 period there were half-a-billion insecticide-treated malaria mosquito nets distributed globally and 200 million more in sub-Saharan Africa over that three year period and the previous three years.
Thanks to the 2015 Nobel Prize winner Youyou Tu from China other options of anti-malarial treatment are available. Artemisinin based Combination Therapy, ACT, is being taken up by many countries. We are yet to have a highly effective vaccine but I think with scientific and medical research and the technological advances that we are seeing, a highly effective vaccine is within our grasp.
On the diagnosis front I think we are doing far better. WHO again reports that the testing rates are improving significantly, dramatically. In sub-Saharan Africa for example, back in 2010, 37 per cent of suspected cases were tested and in 2016 it was 87 per cent.
Diseases like malaria know no borders. They don’t respect or acknowledge borders and that is why health security is a global challenge because we have to operate across borders, we have to operate transnationally. We know that when public health systems come together globally we can transform the outcome. If you look at the Global Polio Eradication Initiative of 1998 – the largest health public-private partnership – we’ve seen cases reduced 99 per cent worldwide. A phenomenal outcome based on global cooperation.
Last year Australia released a Foreign Policy White Paper, our first in 14 years, which sets out a framework for our international engagement, our foreign policy priorities and initiatives hopefully for the next decade and beyond. We came to the inescapable conclusion that we must focus on health security in our region if we are to have healthy communities, if we are to have productive societies and economic growth to underpin security and prosperity.
We announced a $300 million Indo-Pacific Health Security Initiative and pursuant to this initiative we have set up a centre, an Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security bringing together the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, our Federal Health Department, our Defence Department, our scientific and medical and agricultural research agencies so that we can focus on supporting public health systems in our region through sending Australian health professionals into the region, by bringing health professionals to Australia.
This work, this health security initiative will build on much of what we are already doing and in relation to malaria in particular, allow me to reference a number of initiatives: in PNG Australia and China are partnering in a trilateral malaria project. China is bringing expertise, Australia is providing funding, PNG is supporting our work to focus on eradication measures and we are having some success.
We are also one of the core funders of APLMA which is one of the most difficult acronyms I’ve had to come across in my time as Foreign Minister, the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance. 21 countries endorsed the alliance. Australia and the Gates Foundation have provided funded. We are certainly looking forward to more countries supporting APLMA.
We support the Global Fund – our last investment was $220 million over three years and we work closely with Global Fund in the delivery of necessary pharmaceuticals and treatments across our region. We support WHO more broadly but also in efforts to eliminate malaria. We are working in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and I was delighted to accept their invitation to join the End Malaria Council chaired by Bill Gates.
We are also ensuring that our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade works closely with the Therapeutic Goods Association, the agency here in Australia, to find more effective and timely ways of dealing with pharmaceuticals, bringing pharmaceuticals to market. We have also provided $450,000 for Australia Award Health Security Fellowships, bringing health professionals from the Greater Mekong here to Australia to work with researchers and health professionals here and then of course returning to Greater Mekong with their new ideas, experience and the expertise that they have gained.
Today I am delighted to confirm that Australia will do more in the fields of anti-malaria treatments, in disease surveillance and in supporting the workforce. This builds on the announcement I made in London at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting when we announced our focus on Product Development Partnerships - new drugs, new diagnostic tools and new vector control. Today I am announcing seven grants valued at $16 million to five organisations - the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, the University of New Castle, the Burnet Institute here in Victoria and the Menzies School of Health Research in the Northern Territory. These new grants will be for work in our region, in ensuring that we can focus on what will make a difference in disease surveillance, in workforce capability and capacity and anti-malaria drug resistance research.
Delegates, I can assure you that Australia is deeply committed to this goal of the elimination of Malaria but the key is to work in partnership. No one country, no one agency, no one foundation can do it alone. As we have seen with polio eradication, we can eliminate malaria in our lifetime. It is a staged process and we know that some countries will achieve it by 2020, others later, but if we work collectively and collaboratively this goal is within our grasp.
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