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Support for Pacific eyecare fund under Labor government

20/03/2019By Myles Hume
Some segments of the eye health sector have welcomed a commitment from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to invest $32 million into a Pacific Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss Fund, if the party wins the upcoming federal election.

The ALP recently revealed that it would collaborate with organisations, including The Fred Hollows Foundation, Vision 2020 Australia and the RANZCO, to clear a backlog of cataract procedures and provide aid to people with moderate-to-severe visual impairments across the Pacific region.

The funding would also help train up to 600 health workers and support in-country program implementation, including screenings and examinations for ocular conditions.

Vision 2020 Australia CEO Ms Judith Abbott said her organisation supported “reinvestment” to help address declining eye health across the region, and called on the current Federal Government to match the commitment.

“There are currently around 40,000 people who are blind in the Pacific region, with almost 170,000 who have a vision impairment – if no action is taken, these numbers are forecast to significantly worsen,” she said.

“Australia can, and should, do more to address this and we welcome the leadership demonstrated by the ALP in establishing the Pacific Blindness and Vision Loss Fund. No matter who wins the upcoming election, we are calling on the next Australian Government to commit to a new [fund] to address eye health across the region.”

“There are currently around 40,000 people who are blind in the Pacific region, with almost 170,000 who have a vision impairment – if no action is taken, these numbers are forecast to significantly worsen.”
Vision 2020 CEO, Judith Abbott

The Fred Hollows Foundation chairman Mr John Brumby said the investment would be the most significant increase in funding for avoidable blindness since the government cut $11.3 billion from foreign aid in 2014.

According to Brumby, Australia now spends 21 cents on aid and development for every $100 of income, with forward estimates predicting that it could reach its lowest levels by the 2021-22 financial year at 19 cents in every $100.

"Today’s announcement is a critical first step in restoring Australia's aid program to internationally acceptable levels and showing our neighbours that Australia is committed to doing our fair share on the global stage," he said.

"We also call on the Coalition to offer bipartisan support to funding this crucial initiative in the Pacific."

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ALP Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Ms Penny Wong said Australia was well placed to help eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment in the Pacific region.

The senator said the previous Labor government partnered with leading aid agencies and medical organisations to deliver the Avoidable Blindness Initiative, in which more than 35,000 people received cataract surgeries thanks to the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium.

According to the Coalition Government, in addition to health system investments, between 2014-15 and 2018-19, it has invested $41.8 million for specific eye health activities through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program. The Brien Holden Vision Institute, CBM Australia, The Fred Hollows Foundation and Sight for All delivered the initiative in 18 countries in the Indo-Pacific and Africa region. Another $420,000 is earmarked support vision activities in 2018-19 through the Business Partnership Program and Friendship Grants.

In addition, the ALP also announced it will increase the annual base grant funding for fully accredited Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) in the Australian NGO Cooperation Program at a cost of $32 million over the forward estimates.

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