By Samantha Lee
We all have some understanding of the term foreign aid, or at least have seen it in action on TV at some stage, most likely in the form of emergency aid. By definition, foreign aid means the voluntary transfer of resources from one country to another, and it is in large an act of humanitarianism and altruism. But with the proposed cut to foreign aid in the 2013-14 budget, it’s important to reflect on what this may mean for Australia’s aid priorities and delivery.
The world’s poorest and most vulnerable people are those that bear the greatest burden of disease. Diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria; maternal deaths and complications, and poor nutrition are the leading causes of death in developing countries. But non-infectious diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, are thought to account for more and more deaths in the near future. So while on a global scale there has been progress and improvements in the health of the world’s poor, much more still needs to be done.
The fundamental purpose of the Australian Aid program is to help people overcome poverty and achieve sustainable development in developing nations. The priorities are health, education, economic development, governance and humanitarian. In health alone last year, Australia provided an estimated $640 million in development assistance, and with this, lives have been improved by supporting large-scale disease prevention, including immunisations, and treatment in the form of quality and affordable health services to people in need of it most.
Australian aid extends help to improve the health of people throughout Asia, the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. For our closest neighbours such as Papua New Guinea, for example, Australia was involved with obtaining and distributing medical supply kits to more than 2,700 health facilities and is supporting much needed health professionals to graduate. In Indonesia and Fiji, efforts are focused on reducing maternal complications and death, as well as promoting antenatal screening. Annual reports show that the aid program has achieved good results in improving health systems and addressing the major causes of death in these countries.
It is not only because of our conscience that calls us to assist developing countries, but it is also in our national interest as a trading nation to do so. While as a nation we have our own weaknesses and limitations, we also have resources, strengths and knowledge that we can, and should, share with our struggling neighbours. Foreign aid need not be a one way donation. We can strengthen economic ties and trade in the global marketplace, as well as also gain the export of good will and commitment to help. It is hoped that the cuts to foreign aid in the upcoming budget does not compromise our efforts to improve the health of the world’s poor; as a consistent, generous and focused aid effort is needed to take us forward in creating a healthier world for all.