Australia - Global health

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Health is one of Australia’s development priorities, with funding experiencing a sharp increase in 2020 

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australia’s total official development assistance (ODA) to health in 2020 was US$468 million, making Australia the 11th-largest OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donor to the sector. Health funding represented 16% of Australia’s total ODA in that year (above the DAC average of 10%) putting Australia fourth in a ranking of DAC donors’ funding to health relative to total ODA. ODA for health has been inconsistent in recent years but experienced a sharp increase in 2020 due to Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, up 58% from US$297 million in 2019.  

In 2020, 78% (US$365 million) of Australia’s ODA for health was provided bilaterally (DAC average: 56%), including 22% (US$102 million) in earmarked funding through multilaterals. Almost half of bilateral health investments went to COVID-19 control (46%) with health policy and administrative management a distant second at 14%. Both basic health infrastructure and infectious disease control accounted for 14% of bilateral funding to health. 

The remaining 22% (US$84 million) of Australia’s ODA to health was channeled to multilateral organizations. The largest sum was allocated to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi; US$38 million, or 8%), followed by the World Health Organization (WHO; US$14 million, or 3%), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund; US$14 million, or 3%), and the International Development Association (IDA; US$14 million, or 3%). The Asian Development Bank received US$13 million, or 2.8%. 

The Australian government has recognized health multilaterals as key to the global COVID-19 response. At the Global Vaccine Summit in June 2020, Australia pledged A$300 million (US$219 million, according to the official conversion from Gavi) to Gavi and US$36 million for the International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm) for 2021-2025.  

Australia’s development policy, ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response,’ launched in May 2020, was oriented toward COVID-19 response and recovery efforts, and therefore includes health—in particular, health security in the Indo-Pacific—as a key pillar. The FY2022/23 budget confirmed the increased importance of health in Australia’s ODA program, with both COVID-19 response and longer-term health funding boosting the health budget. The FY2022/23 “temporary, targeted, and supplementary measures” provided for a new two-year investment of A$314 million (US$216 million) to provide economic and social support for COVID-19 recovery in the Pacific region and Timor-Leste, with A$281 million (US$193 million) to be allocated just in FY2022/23. This contribution is coupled with A$98 million (US$67 million) in ongoing support to the ‘Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative’ for equitable vaccine access in the Pacific region, including Australia’s commitment to share 60 million COVID-19 vaccines to the region by the end of 2022. 

Longer-term health system strengthening was also a priority, specifically immunization, maternal healthcare, family planning, and efforts to prevent future pandemics. The latest budget stated that Australia will make an additional A$375 million (US$258 million) five-year investment in the region’s health security. Australia also committed $100 million (US$69 million) to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), with 50% of this funding from ODA and 50% from domestic financing by the Department of Health. Additionally, the previous government put A$85 million (US$58 million) toward the COVAX Advance Market Commitment to address new COVID-19 variants and improve vaccine access, bringing their total commitment to A$215 million (US$148 million) to date. 

Australia’s policy also committed to investing in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects and ensuring adequate provision of sexual and reproductive health services during the pandemic, including through United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA; to which it contributed US$41 million in non-core funding in 2021, according to official UNFPA figures). The FY2022/23 budget saw a slight increase in funding for ‘Heath, Water and Sanitation,’ up A$400,000 (US$275,000) from the FY2021/22 estimate. Australia will also fund global research and development (including multilateral initiatives) for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics (see sector: ‘Global health R&D’).  

The incoming Labor government has yet to announce changes to Australia’s global health policy. This will be informed by a review of the Regional Health Security Initiative due to be completed by September 2022. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Global Health Division leads on global health policy development 

Following the restructuring, the Global Health Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is the driver of health development policy and provides operational guidance to assist with the implementation of the strategy, for example, on health systems reform, regional health security, private sector engagement, nutrition and health, and WASH. It hosts the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, other DFAT health programs, and works closely with other government partners (including the Health Department and Therapeutic Goods Administration), to plan and adjust pipeline investments.