The Liberal National Government will provide $160 million for a national research initiative to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Indigenous Health Research Fund will be a 10-year research program funded from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).
It will support practical, innovative research into the best approaches to prevention, early intervention, and treatment of health conditions of greatest concern to Indigenous communities.
The funding’s first three flagship priorities, which aim to deliver rapid solutions to some of the biggest preventable health challenges faced by our First Nations peoples, are:
· Ending avoidable blindness
· Ending avoidable deafness
· Ending rheumatic heart disease
Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt AM announced the first project to be funded under the Indigenous Health Research Fund on Sunday – $35 million for the development of a vaccine to eliminate rheumatic heart disease in Australia.
Rheumatic heart disease is a complication of bacterial infections of the throat and skin. Australia currently has the highest rate of rheumatic heart disease in the world.
Every year, nearly 250 children are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever and 50 – 150 people die from rheumatic heart disease in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 64 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to develop rheumatic heart disease, and nearly 20 times as likely to die from it.
“Rheumatic heart disease kills young people and devastates families. This funding will save countless lives in Australia and beyond,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
The remaining $125 million Indigenous Health Research funding will be focussed on research projects that fall into five key areas – guaranteeing a healthy start to life, improving primary health care, overcoming the origins of inequality in health, reducing the burden of disease, and addressing emerging challenges.
An advisory panel comprising prominent Indigenous research experts and community leaders, co-chaired by Prof. Alex Brown (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute) and Dr Misty Jenkins (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research), will guide the Indigenous Health Research Fund investments.
It will be the first national research fund led by Indigenous people, and conducted with close engagement with Indigenous communities.
The Indigenous Health Research Fund will also seek contributions from philanthropic organisations, state governments, industry, and the private sector in order to increase the reach and impact of the fund.
“It is time to come together as a nation to work as partners in bringing equity in health outcomes” Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt AM, said.
The Indigenous Health Research Fund will provide the knowledge and understanding to make health programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people more effective and lead to lasting health improvements.
This is key to closing the gap in health outcomes since, despite considerable investment by the Commonwealth in existing programmes, Indigenous Australians currently have about a 10 year lower life expectancy and 2.3 times the burden of disease compared to non-Indigenous Australians.
“The fund is a vital step towards improving the health of our Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander communities. Ultimately, parity in health outcomes is the only acceptable goal, and this fund will help to achieve it,” Minister Hunt said.
“The right research into improved treatments and services has the potential to dramatically accelerate the progress we have seen over the last six years in achieving better health for Indigenous Australians,” Minister Wyatt said.
The Morrison Government will provide separate funding of $3.8 million over four years to fund the University of Melbourne’s Indigenous Eye Health Program. This program aims to improve Indigenous eye health in Australia.
“The research into improving the system is critical, but we are also absolutely committed to delivering real, on-the-ground improvements and frontline services right now,” Minister Hunt said.
Our Government has a long-standing and important commitment to achieving health equity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
The Government is investing $3.9 billion in Indigenous-specific health initiatives (from 2018-19 to 2021-22), an ongoing increase of around four per cent per year. This includes investment under the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program.
The MRFF is key to the Government’s health and research plans and is delivering significant benefits for Australian researchers, with over $2 billion in disbursements announced to date.