Budget Boost Promised for Avoidable Blindness in Pacific
13 March 2019 at 5:36 pm
Foreign aid groups have welcomed a $32 million commitment by Labor for an avoidable blindness fund, which they hope will restore foreign aid cuts by the federal government over the past four years.
Labor Senator Penny Wong announced on Tuesday that a Shorten Labor government would establish a Pacific Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss Fund – the most significant increase in funding for avoidable blindness since the government cut $11.3 billion from foreign aid in 2014.
“The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has reduced annual aid expenditure on eye health by approximately 41 per cent over the last four years,” Wong said.
She said Labor would partner with The Fred Hollows Foundation, Vision 2020 Australia, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists to deliver the program.
The fund will also train up to 600 health workers across the region, and deliver screening and examination for eye health conditions.
Chairman of The Fred Hollows Foundation, John Brumby, said the funding would make a big difference on the issue of avoidable blindness.
“40,000 people are needlessly blind and 170,000 are severely vision impaired in the Pacific and this funding would make massive inroads into clearing the cataract backlog,” Brumby said.
“This funding boost will help us change the lives of tens of thousands of people who are needlessly blind and give them and their families a better future.”
He said the money would also be a critical first step in restoring Australia’s aid program to an internationally acceptable level.
“It’s about showing our neighbours that Australia is committed to doing our fair share on the global stage,” he said.
Australia currently spends 21 cents on aid and development for every $100 of income, and this is predicted to drop to 19 cents by the 2021-22 financial year unless more money is committed.
Wong said the the increase in funding reflected Labor’s commitment to working with NGOs to strengthen Australia’s aid delivery, as well as recognising the role they played in civil society.
“A strong civil society is vital to democracy, inclusion, transparency and openness, accountability, and the protection of minorities and marginalised groups,” she said.
Brumby also encouraged the Morrison government to match the commitment made by Labor.
“Australia can afford to do more and must do more to help some of the poorest people in the world,” he said.