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Disease and nutrition being targeted in the Pacific

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Combating disease and improving nutrition among Pacific islands populations is the focus of new initiatives funded by the Australian Government.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has announced a $7.7 million commitment towards innovative pilot programs targeting mosquito-borne diseases in Fiji, Vanuatu and Kiribati.

Another $2.5 million is being contributed towards nutrition programs in the Pacific.

Australia’s innovationXchange has partnered with Monash University’s Eliminate Dengue Program and national health ministries to target dengue, Zika virus, and Chikungunya.

The program uses naturally occurring Wolbachia bacteria to stop mosquitoes from transmitting these diseases to human populations.

“Dengue is an insidious virus that emerges quickly when the conditions are right and in its severe form, it can be fatal,” Ms Bishop said.

“In Fiji, Vanuatu and Kiribati, over 30,000 people have been infected in the last decade.

“These pilots build on Australia’s existing efforts to promote health security in the Pacific by building countries’ capacities to detect, assess and respond to diseases with epidemic potential.

“Given Australia’s close proximity to our Pacific neighbours, supporting regional health security also works to ensure our own national health security.”

Malnutrition is also a challenge in the Pacific, with about half of all children in Papua New Guinea stunted because of chronic under-nutrition.

Across the Pacific the prevalence of non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, is rising, and linked to poor diet choices.

The Government will invest $4 million in winners of the LAUNCH Food Challenge to improve nutrition in our region, including $2.5 million in the Pacific.

Winning initiatives will work to increase local production of healthy food using innovative technology and drive healthier food choices through improved public health communication.

LAUNCH Food is a global innovation challenge supported by Australia’s innovationXchange, USAID’s Global Development Lab and regional stakeholders.

The innovationXchange was established in March 2015 within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to form new partnerships and identify innovative approaches to improve the effectiveness and impact of the Australian aid program, and public policy more generally.

CHRIS JOHNSON

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