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Australia, Papua New Guinea, Germany collaborate on trial of magnetic diagnostic test for malaria

Dr. Stefan Carl, a senior research fellow at James Cook University in North Queensland, has undertaken field trials of a new test that detects malaria-infected blood which included a field site of almost 1,000 people in Papua New Guinea.

The test detects malaria parasites through their magnetic properties. It holds the prospect of providing an outcome in ten minutes without requiring expensive reagents (added substances for chemical reactions) or detailed laboratory training.

The test was developed in a collaboration between German, Papua New Guinea, and Australian research centers.

News article - Mirage News

Development assistance NGOs affected by Australian dispute with Facebook

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), Save the Children Australia, the Crawford Fund for International Agricultural Research, World Vision Australia, and Oxfam Australia were all affected by Facebook blocking links to Australian sites.

In a dispute with the Australian government over payment for access to Australian news media, Facebook withdrew access to links to Australian news. This inadvertently also removed links to many development assistance organizations and some health messaging sites. The Australian government and Facebook have subsequently reportedly agreed on the provisions of proposed legislation, and Facebook has reinstated links to the affected pages.

News article - Devex

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Australia

Australia’s medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has announced that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use in Australia and is considered safe for those over 65. This followed the World Health Organization’s recommendations on the vaccine.

The TGA recommended a 12-week gap between the first and second vaccine injections. The previously anticipated end date of October 2021 for all Australians to vaccinated may be pushed out further, due to this longer gap between the first and second shots.

The Australian government has agreed to buy 50 million doses of the vaccine from CSL Limited (formerly Commonwealth Serum Laboratories), the major Australian vaccine producer. Australia has also announced it will aim to provide COVID-19 doses for people in the Pacific and other regional countries.

CSL has already commenced production of the vaccine and aims to produce one million doses per week.  The company expressed that it is confident that, once supplied with updated materials, it could adapt the vaccine to combat new strains of the virus.

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

University of Western Australia, Food and Agriculture Organization identify 150+ underused crops to reduce hunger

University of Western Australia researchers have indicated that the Asia-Pacific region’s overreliance on a limited number of crops has led to undernutrition and low dietary diversity, which has resulted in a significant prevalence of stunting and wasting.

More than 150 underused food crop species have been identified by the university's researchers and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The full study has been published in the journal Nature Plants, with the species ranked in terms of their nutritional value, climate change resistance, economic value, and availability.

News article - Mirage

COVAX Facility to provide early vaccine delivery to Pacific

Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, said he expected initial vaccine deliveries to the Pacific to be through the COVAX Facility, which should commence shortly, and later vaccine stocks will be provided by Australia.

He indicated that Australia's assistance to the Pacific was not just through the procurement of vaccines but also through the strengthening of health systems, communications, workforce training, and logistics.

Seselja said that there was a strong moral case, as well as economic, for Australia to provide these vaccines. Australia, New Zealand, France, and the US are all likely to assist the provision of vaccinations in parts of the Pacific.

Transcript - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

ACT-A Facilitation Council announces funding gap of US$27.2 billion, asks countries not to compete with COVAX vaccine contracts

The Facilitation Council of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) had its fourth meeting on February 9, 2021, to discuss its 2021 agenda and needs, including closing the funding gap of US$27.2 billion for 2021.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, co-hosted and began his introductory remarks by welcoming the newly-joined US under President Joe Biden to ACT-A. 

Ghebreyesus stressed that more than 90% of countries currently administering COVID-19 vaccines are wealthy, and 75% of all doses given have been given in just ten countries. Nearly 130 countries, he said, have not administered a single dose.

ACT-A and the COVAX Facility were created as part of global efforts coordinated by the WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, among others, in order to increase access to vaccines and promote vaccine equity internationally, and these goals are being threatened, said Ghebreyesus.

He called for:

  1. Full financing of ACT-A and COVAX: The financing gap is at more than US$27.2 billion for 2021. He called on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries to commit a proportion of stimulus financing and to unlock capital in multilateral development banks to help close the gap.
  2. Respect for COVAX contracts from all countries and a non-competition commitment: He referred here to countries who continue to sign bilateral vaccine deals while many nations have no vaccine doses at all. Ghebreyesus reiterated WHO's goal that the vaccination of health workers should be in progress in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021, which means that countries with more doses need to share and donate doses before going on to vaccinate their lower-risk populations. He warned that if COVID-19 is not suppressed globally, that variants of the virus could result in the world "back at square one".
  3. An urgent increase in manufacturing to increase the volume of vaccines: This could include "innovative partnerships including tech transfer, licensing and other mechanisms to address production bottlenecks".

Experts have warned that all countries need to take an "internationalist", not nationalist, approach to vaccination rollout and tacking COVID-19, otherwise experts fear that some low-income countries may not receive vaccines until 2024.

Visuals from the 'ACT-A Prioritized Strategy & Budget for 2021' presentation illustrate the contributors of a total of US$6.0 billion to ACT-A, as of February 3, and the breakdown of the US$27.2 billion needed for 2021. According to an update as of February 12, ACT-A has an additional US$4.0 billion in projected funding, so the US$27.2 billion funding gap "will be reduced to US$23.2 billion as projected funds are operationalized."

Transcript - WHO

Event website - WHO

Australia reviews foreign assistance to Myanmar following military coup

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Marise Payne, announced that the Australian government was reviewing its official development assistance (ODA) to Myanmar, including vaccine doses.

This announcement followed the recent news of the military coup in Myanmar and the arrest of an Australian economic adviser, Sean Turnell, to the deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Other political figures were detained during the coup, and it seems that Turnell was the only foreigner detained so far.

Payne said Australia was also reviewing its education and training programs with the Myanmar military.

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

Pacific, South-East Asian countries will prefer Australian vaccines due to strict regulatory standards, says Morrison

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has indicated that Australia’s vaccines would be provided to Pacific and South-East Asian countries and that countries were likely to prefer those vaccines due to the rigorous approval processes followed by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

He informed the leaders at the Pacific Island Forum that Australia planned to spend A$200 million (US$151 million) to support vaccination programs in the Pacific. An additional A$300 million (US$226 million) would be provided to support vaccination programs in South-East Asia.

Transcript - Prime Minister of Australia

Under budget pressure, Australia abolishes development assistance evaluation groups

Following a freedom of information inquiry, the South China Morning Post reported that Australia had closed two development assistance evaluation entities primarily to achieve departmental budget savings.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) abolished the Office of Development Effectiveness (ODE) in September 2020 and ended the ODE's strategic evaluations of overseas development activities. DFAT also abolished an Independent Evaluation Committee overseeing evaluations.

Opposition spokesman Pat Conroy has claimed that the government's moves undermined Australia’s development program, just when major regional challenges needed to be faced. The DFAT, however, indicated that evaluations would be conducted by other areas of the Department including the Office of the Chief Economist.

Press release - South China Morning Post

Australian Prime Minister's 2021 priorities include Pacific vaccine access

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has committed his government to five priority areas for 2021. These included suppressing the COVID-19 virus and delivering the COVID-19 vaccine nationally.

Speaking at the National Press Club, he emphasized Australia’s ability to manufacture vaccines for the entire Australian population.

He also said the Foreign Minister and Minister for International Development in the Pacific were working with Pacific and Southeast Asian governments on dedicated vaccine assistance tailored to their health systems and needs.

Australia has continued its Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) as well as supporting Indonesia's vaccine program.

Morrison also said the country has recently "upgraded" its relationships with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand, as well as signed a new digital commerce agreement with Singapore.

Press release - Prime Minister of Australia

Australian Foreign Minister expresses concern about military takeover in Myanmar

Australia’s Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne, stated the government's deep concerns about control of Myanmar reportedly being seized by the military. She called on the military to respect the rule of law and the outcome of the 2020 general election. This would include the release of civilian leaders including President U Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Australia has supported Myanmar with bilateral assistance as part of regional programs through its cooperation with ASEAN for many years. It has committed an estimated A$91 million (US$69 million) in total official development assistance (ODA) to Myanmar in 2020-2021.

Press release - Minister for Foreign Affairs

Report - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and Australia (MIKTA) launch development cooperation institutions network for stronger partnership

Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, and Australia, the five countries of the 'MIKTA' partnership which was formed in 2013, recently launched a network among their development cooperation institutions for discussion on international norms on foreign assistance, mutual sharing of development cooperation strategies, and promotion of triangular cooperation.

This partnership will also be implemented in line with the values and strategies of MIKTA itself. For South Korea, this can be an opportunity to create synergies by engaging with MIKTA as a whole rather than its previous approach of working bilaterally with each MIKTA member countries.

Press release – KOICA (in Korean)

Climate Adaptation Summit convenes world leaders, launches Adaptation Action Agenda to enact resiliency measures

World leaders convened digitally at the Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) to launch partnerships to tackle the climate crisis, pledge financial support, and sign on to adaptation measures to be enacted while countries fight to prevent further environmental devastation. The Summit was hosted by the Netherlands on January 25-26, 2021.

CAS resulted in the "2030 Adaptation Action Agenda for accelerating climate adaptation action", which aims to make 2021-2030 a "make-or-break" decade of action against the climate crisis. The Agenda takes into account the new challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, with further commitments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015 by all UN member states.

The Climate Adaption Summit also helps prepare for COP26, the annual UN Climate Change Conference, which will take place in November 2021 after being postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Government participants included the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, South Korea, the Netherlands, and the UK, many of whom made announcements or pledges:

Australian Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley, announced that Australia would develop a new climate resilience and adaptation strategy this year, and the country will join the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, an initiative of COP26.

France’s Climate Ambassador, Stéphane Crouzat, announced a new €4 million (US$5 million) contribution to the CREWS Initiative, "a mechanism that funds Least Developed Countries (LDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) for risk informed early warning services".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged €220 million (US$268 million) to support low-income countries adapting to the climate crisis.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new 'Adaptation Action Coalition'—developed in partnership with Bangladesh, Egypt, Malawi, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia, and the UN—that aims to turn political commitments made through the UN 'Call for Action on Adaptation and Resilience' into tangible support. Around 120 countries including the EU and 90 organizations have signed this.

Newly-appointed US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, reiterated that the US is rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate and is working on its new nationally determined contribution (NDC). The US will announce its NDC "as soon as practical" and plans to "significantly increase the flow of finance, including concessional finance" to help adaptation and resilience measures.

International institution and business leaders also attended and announced initiatives:

President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Gilbert Houngbo, officially launched a climate adaptation fund, the 'Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Program', to help smallholder farmers. IFAD aims to mobilize US$500 million to support more than 10 million people.

President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, announced the launch of the 'Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program' (AAAP), in coordination with the Global Center on Adaptation. The program aims to mobilize US$25.0 billion to "scale up and accelerate climate change adaptation actions across Africa".

Australia to develop new national climate resilience and adaptation strategy in 2021

Addressing the Climate Adaption Summit hosted by the Netherlands on January 25-26, 2021, Australian Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley indicated that Australia will develop a new national climate resilience and adaptation strategy during 2021.

Ley also announced that Australia will join the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment, an initiative of COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November 2021.

Australia will join the signatories to 'A Call for Action: Raising Ambition for Climate Adaptation and Resilience', being promoted by the UK and signed by over 118 countries.

Press release - Minister for Environment

Pressures of COVID-19 crisis could mean higher Australian ODA is here to stay for now, say academics

Commentators from academia and the media pointed to the prospect of Australian official development assistance (ODA) remaining above the government’s target of A$4.0 billion (US$3.0 billion). Professor Stephen Howes from the Australian National University calculated that Australia’s ODA has risen 9% over the previous year in nominal terms and has effectively returned to the level of 2015-16.

While the government has said the increase is "temporary and targeted", Howes believes it would be difficult internationally for the government to cut foreign assistance in the next few years. In addition, the government has commenced increasing ODA to Southeast Asia after heavy cuts.

The Sydney Morning Herald also commented that the government has been able to cut other parts of its foreign assistance budget to focus on the Pacific Islands. However, the newspaper concluded that this strategy is not possible in the future and Australia needs to increase its overall ODA budget, particularly in the context of a once-in-a-generation pandemic.

Report - Development Policy Centre, Australian National University

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

COVID-19 aerosol removal technology undergoes trials in Australia

The Australian Queensland Berghofer Institute of Medical Research is collaborating with the start-up company, MedAir Australia, to test an air sterilization device developed to remove COVID-19 virus aerosols from the air.

The technology aims to remove aerosols from areas where they are generated at high levels and where ventilation is inadequate. However, the device does not remove droplets, which are the major vector for transmission. A provisional patent has been applied for the device.

News article - Mirage News

Australian National University launches podcast series on international development and implementation

A series of podcasts entitled ‘Memorandum of Understanding: conversations about international development’ has been launched by the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University.

This series will cover the process and policies of international development and project implementation. It promises to have a documentary-style approach to interviews and expert analysis.

News article - Australian National University

Two former heads of intelligence call for increased foreign assistance from Australia

In a podcast series launched by the Australian Council for International Development, Richard Maude and Alan Gyngell have called for Australia to increase its foreign assistance budget. Both men were previously heads of Australia's intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessments.

Maude, now in the role of Executive Director of the Asia Society Australia, indicated that Australia’s step up in the Pacific had come at the expense of areas in the Indo-Pacific region. Gyngell emphasized the need to update Australia’s foreign policy and put more emphasis on soft power compared to the amount of attention going to intelligence agencies and defense.

News article - Brisbane Times

Australian researchers discover possible new target for mosquito-borne virus treatments

A team from the University of Queensland's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences has identified a single antibody that could protect against a variety of mosquito-borne viruses including Zika, West Nile, and dengue.

The viral protein named NS1 provides a new target for treatments. To date, the antibody has demonstrated benefits in laboratory-based trials.

Press release - University of Queensland

Australia to fund accelerated trial of 'next generation' vaccines and transmission-reducing measures for COVID-19

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt announced funding for trials of two 'next generation' vaccines which could be rapidly changed to account for mutations of the COVID-19 virus.

The University of Melbourne will trial these "recombinant protein and mRNA vaccines", which will potentially have numerous advantages over 'first generation' vaccines such as not requiring extremely low-temperature storage.

The funding was allocated as part of a broader A$10 million (US$7 million) package of research on managing COVID-19 transmission.

Press release - Department of Health