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HIV-AIDS loses out in the Budget

By Joe Thomas - posted Tuesday, 27 May 2008


Australia’s Labor Government unveiled its first budget on May 13, 2008. The indications are clear: HIV-AIDS may not be a priority, either domestically and internationally. This abrupt and drastic policy shift is not based on an informed understanding of the human security implications of emerging and re-emerging diseases such as HIV-AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region.

The implications of Rudd Government’s disengagement on HIV-AIDS related issues in the Asia-Pacific region will have a long term impact on the human security of this region. A carefully cultivated Australian leadership position in HIV response in this region is at stake. This policy shift will disempower a large section of the Australian civil society’s capacity to engage with their counterparts in this region.

For instance, “harm reduction” policies and programs are almost uniquely an Australian civil society contribution to the global public health. Australian Asia-Pacific regional HIV response has contributed immensely to the development and the refinement of harm reduction approaches. This policy shift and its implications will be carefully monitored by the policy analysts in this region

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During the previous government, particularly during the 2005-06 Aid Budget, Australia committed record levels of resources to overseas aid. Australia committed to provide an estimated $2.491 billion in official development assistance (ODA) in 2005-06.

During the previous government Australia also played a leading role in fighting the spread of HIV-AIDS in the Asia-Pacific. In 2004, the Australian government launched the $600 million international HIV-AIDS strategy. In support of this strategy, funding for HIV-AIDS activities was estimated to be about $70 million in 2005-06. This includes a contribution of $20 million for the “Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria”, as part of a $50 million, three-year commitment to the fund. There was also a $5 million HIV-AIDS partnership initiative to strengthen the capacity of regional HIV-AIDS organisations through partnerships with Australian organisations.

Australia appointed a Special Representative - an ambassador on HIV-AIDS - to promote and co-ordinate the Australian HIV-AIDS response in the Asia-Pacific region.

As a welcome change the 2008-09 Budget indicates the newly elected government’s ODA policy would increase to 0.5 per cent of GNI (gross national income) by 2015-16. The new Australian government is expected to provide an estimated $3.7 billion in ODA in 2008-09, increasing Australia’s ratio of ODA to GNI from 0.30 per cent in 2007-08 to 0.32 per cent in 2008-09.

However, in a significant shift from the previous government’s ODA policy, HIV-AIDS does not appear in the list of the measures contained in the new budget. Even though, HIV-AIDS still remains a significant human security threat to several nations in the Asia Pacific region.

The emphasis of the Rudd Government is on:

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  1. climate change adaptation needs;
  2. establishing Australian leadership on disability;
  3. eliminating avoidable blindness; and
  4. improving access to clean water and sanitation.

These programs are to be promoted though addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Accordingly, in 2008-09 Australia will scale up expenditure in major sectors influencing MDG outcomes, including education (up 5 per cent), health (up 8 per cent), rural development (up 7 per cent), environment (up 7 per cent) and infrastructure (up 17 per cent). Assistance to help the most vulnerable, particularly those who suffer from a disability or who are refugees or victims of humanitarian crises, will also increase.
It appears that the ODA is also closely linked to the foreign policy objectives. Accordingly, priority will be given to helping the Pacific region and Papua New Guinea achieve the MDGs through expanded assistance in 2008-09.

There is no new significant resource allocation for HIV response, neither in the budget nor does it gives any indication abut the possible direction of the future HIV response of Australia in Asia Pacific region.

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About the Author

Dr Joe Thomas is one of the leading social commentators on HIV and AIDS in Asia Pacific region. He has contributed towards HIV-AIDS related program and policy developments in Australia, India, Indonesia, East Timor, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Mongolia and Rwanda. He is the founding Director of the International Centre for Health Equity Inc. based in Melbourne. Australia and is the Chairperson of Asian People’s Alliance for Combating HIV and AIDS. (APACHA)

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