JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Aid-for-trade program not what the doctor ordered

Date

José Ramos-Horta

"Aid for trade ignores the fact that three-quarters of the world's extreme poor."

"Aid for trade ignores the fact that three-quarters of the world's extreme poor." Photo: Graham Reilly

The federal budget's disappointing cuts to the foreign aid program come as no surprise, given Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s announcement of a cap on the aid budget just last month. However, the cuts, combined with the mantra of aid for trade, are short-sighted and contrary to Australia’s national interest to promote economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

Aid for trade ignores the fact that three-quarters of the world's extreme poor – those living on less than US$1.25 ($1.33) per day – now live in middle-income countries, many of which are Australia’s neighbours and future trading partners. The world’s poor are not benefiting from the region’s rapid economic growth, nor are they contributing to it. Instead, they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and disease, often perpetuated by easily-treatable neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and parasitic and bacterial infections that include intestinal worms, trachoma and lymphatic filariasis.

If left untreated, tropical diseases cause malnutrition, blindness and other disabilities, which prevent children from attending school and adults from working. An individual with chronic lymphatic filariasis infection is estimated to lose 70 days of work per year. Trachoma, a blinding disease that persists among Australia’s indigenous communities, is estimated to contribute to US$5.3 billion in global economic losses.

Treating these diseases is one of the cheapest health interventions available today. Nearly all the medicines needed are donated by pharmaceutical companies, reducing the annual cost of treatment to less than 50¢ per person. The financial effect that comes from freeing the region’s poor from such preventable diseases is directly linked to unleashing the untapped market growth in low and middle-income countries of the Asia-Pacific region.

 For Australia’s aid-for-trade program to be effective, it must first lay the foundation for inclusive and sustainable economic growth and development across the region. The best way to do this is to invest in health, including the control and elimination of tropical diseases by 2020. This is a global goal that is endorsed by the London Declaration, an unprecedented public-private partnership, with clear benchmarks and tangible targets.

To set the stage for long-term economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region, I recommend three concrete actions for Australia’s foreign aid program.

First, Australia should leverage one of its greatest regional public goods: its research institutions. These represent the country remarkably well and should be crucial players in its “economic diplomacy”.

In my own country of Timor-Leste, Australian aid has enabled a strong partnership between the University of Sydney and the Ministry of Health, training the next generation of health professionals and leaders.

Second, the aid program should prioritise health as an “enabler” of economic growth and development. The government can help lay the foundation for health institutions that will contribute to the creation of a more productive labour force and expand the market for Australian goods and services.

Third, co-investment in regional health should be encouraged. Australia has already set the stage for this by spearheading the Asia-Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance and investing in the Asia Development Bank’s Regional Malaria and Other Communicable Diseases Trust Fund. Investing together in tangible goals promotes health, alleviates poverty, and establishes platforms for future cooperation and trade. Australia is uniquely positioned to help expand partnerships and attract new investments across the region.

Traditional aid-for-trade programs have had some success in accelerating economic development. However, without an investment in programs that directly target the health of those living in poverty, the rampant inequality that exists across Asia and the Pacific will continue to persist and may even become a threat to Australia’s security. Programs that help eliminate neglected tropical diseases are simple, cost-effective and help to address the underlying causes of inequitable growth. They should be given equal billing with traditional aid-for-trade programs.

Dr. José Ramos-Horta is a Nobel peace laureate (1996) and former president of Timor-Leste (2007-2012).

5 comments

  • Not too far into the future, there's going to be (have to be) a new definition for "civilised". We've dropped "uncivilised". We've dropped "Third World". We now use "Developing Nations" as a euphemism by courtesy of political correctness. However, the areas that any of those terms referred to are becoming blurred. I would like a few academics to examine and point out to us what they would now consider the parameters necessary to be included under the terminology and code for "Civilised". Dr J.R.-H. has arguably been the most civilising influence in our part of the world in the past century, or more.

    Commenter
    One For The Good Guys
    Date and time
    May 14, 2014, 10:14AM
    • Well I guess the Abbott government thinks everybody should pay for medical treatment, no matter how great the need. Just look at what he's doing to Medicare closer to home.

      Commenter
      Megan
      Date and time
      May 14, 2014, 4:39PM
      • Think you might have dropped in on the wrong article, toots.

        Commenter
        Tom
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 14, 2014, 5:39PM
    • The most effective aid programs were partnerships as Dr J R-H pointed out, another ways are directing all the aid funds to organisations have links with organisations such as Red Cross and other respected world recognised charities.

      Governments foreign aids normally directing to the high officials coffers, enrich those as high places, I am a bit uneasy when I see Australian people who are homeless, have no where to go tonight, whereas my tax money sent to those already living in high places luxury oversea.

      Instead sending foreign aids, we should be promoted program such as Colombo where poor people of the world has a chance of educations and go back to build their backward countries.

      Commenter
      Elite
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 14, 2014, 5:05PM
      • Other countries send aid in a way that also assists them as well as the country receiving the aid. Why should Australia be expected to throw money at Timor and expect nothing back?
        Win / Win?

        Commenter
        Tom
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        May 14, 2014, 5:43PM
        Comments are now closed
        Featured advertisers