Acute and slow-burn public health threats are emerging with increasing frequency, with potentially devastating consequences for economic and social development, particularly through impacts on trade, investment and tourism. Outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), highly pathogenic avian influenza, Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Zika have underscored the need for improvements in countries’ capacity to prevent, detect and respond to epidemics in both human and animal populations. These events have also highlighted that effective infectious disease control depends crucially on the existence of well-functioning health systems and good regional cooperation.
The increasing frequency of new highly pathogenic avian influenzas, including those circulating in bird populations in our region, creates the conditions for a pandemic even more deadly than that of 1918-19, which caused up to 50 million deaths worldwide. Other epidemic-prone diseases including dengue, certain vaccine-preventable diseases, and zoonotic diseases such as avian influenzas and rabies, continue to affect the countries of the Indo-Pacific. Climate change could see mosquito-borne diseases spreading to new locations in the decades ahead, with potential net negative impacts on human health and national economies.
A 2016 UK government review on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has warned that, if not decisively tackled, AMR could result in an additional 10 million deaths annually by 2050, with almost half of them in our region. Already, drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is a significant problem in Papua New Guinea, while drug resistant malaria and the rise of Plasmodium vivax malaria in the region threatens a major resurgence of what was once the world's biggest killer.
Australia’s Health Security Initiative contributes to Indo-Pacific health security by accelerating research on new drugs and diagnostics, expanding partnerships to strengthen human and animal health systems, and deepening people-to-people linkages that build health security capacity. In operational terms, its investments will:
- Promote global and regional cooperation — by helping to build political momentum in regional forums, supporting practical regional initiatives and advocating for the needs of the region in relevant global forums.
- Catalyse international responses to countries’ identified needs — by helping countries to determine what they need in order to comply with norms established by the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health, and working with international partners to respond to those needs.
- Apply Australia’s unique strengths in health security — by mobilising public health professionals to undertake targeted capacity-building placements with governments and research institutions in the region, supporting the best Australian institutions to undertake health systems and policy research in partnership with regional counterparts, and expanding public health training opportunities in Australia.
- Accelerate access to new and effective tools — by supporting research, development, commercialisation and adoption of new drugs, diagnostics and vaccines, as well as measures to improve regulation, procurement, storage and distribution in relation to all relevant products.
The Initiative supports the global “One Health” agenda, which recognises that effective action to prevent and contain epidemics must include action at the interface of human and animal health. Some 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases are transmitted to humans from animals.