L-R: Professor Brendan Crabb, Foreign Minister The Hon Julie Bishop MP and Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls, Ms Natasha Stott Despoja at Parliament House, Canberra
This year marks 40 years since Independence for Papua New Guinea (PNG), and despite still facing some significant challenges, considerable progress has been made in improving health.
Burnet Institute hosted a special reception at Parliament House in Canberra with Australian and Papua New Guinean dignitaries to highlight the country’s achievements in health and some of the challenges that still need to be addressed.
Burnet Institute Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC said Papua New Guinea had some tremendous success stories to champion.
“The perception is sometimes that they haven’t come very far, but the reality is they’ve come a long way in 40 years,” Professor Crabb told guests including Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Federal Opposition Leader, The Hon Bill Shorten MP and Papua New Guinea High Commissioner, His Excellency Mr Charles W. Lepani.
“Papua New Guinea has worked very effectively with its partners on the emergence of HIV, for example, and dealt very successfully with vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly measles, when it was threatening.
“There’s a strong foundation from which to address the challenges of the future which include recalcitrant issues of maternal mortality and newborn health, and the emergence of tuberculosis as the new major health problem in the country.
“These health concerns continue to exist because there’s not enough knowledge, not enough research. You can’t just roll out big interventions if you don’t know what those interventions are.”
Professor Crabb said the fact that Australia spends more aid dollars on PNG than any other country, with more than $AUD550 million set aside this year, indicates the strength and importance of the partnership.
The relationship, he said, provides a solid foundation for working collaboratively to solve complex health problems, ensuring research and innovation is at the centre of those solutions.
“The success stories have all been collaborative efforts led by PNG and involving the Australian Government and agencies like Burnet working together with implementing organisations to deliver solutions,” Professor Crabb said.
“Burnet’s role has been to find out the best ways to deliver the newest and latest and most innovative interventions, developing tests where there were none, or identifying immunisation strategies when the old strategies weren’t working any more.
“We don’t have all the answers and we’re certainly unlikely to have enough funding, so we’re going to have to do things more effectively, and more efficiently, and the only way to do that is to innovate.”
IMAGE: Deputy Secretary for Health PNG, Dr Paison Dakulala addresses the Burnet Institute event
Professor Crabb said Burnet Institute has committed to helping to address PNG’s ongoing challenges in health through its innovative Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies research program.
“Tragically, more than 5,000 babies still die in their first year of life and another 7,000 children don’t reach five years of age,” Professor Crabb said.
“Burnet is working closely with a range of local organisations in East New Britain to address the high rate of maternal and child mortality.
“We’re incredibly proud of our long history in PNG and the association we have with all our partners, and Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies is a significant next step.”
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