Overview of Australia's assistance for health

How we are helping

2017-18 Budget Estimate:
$495.7 million

DFAT's investments in health are guided by the Health for Development Strategy 2015-2020. The strategy guides our official aid expenditure in health, and supports our program teams to make informed investment choices within their respective global, regional or country level allocations for 2015-16 and beyond.

The geographic focus of the strategy is South East Asia and the Pacific. The region is the global epicentre of emerging infectious diseases and drug-resistance, including widespread resistance to treatments for malaria and tuberculosis.

The strategy focuses on two high level outcomes:

  • to help build country-level systems and services that are responsive to people's health needs; and
  • to strengthen regional preparedness and capacity to respond to emerging health threats.

We prioritise investments in the following five areas:

  1. Core public health systems and capacities in key partner countries. We work closely with partner governments and the private sector in partner countries to strengthen the building blocks of country health systems: service delivery, the health workforce, health information systems, medicines, financing and governance.
  2. Combatting health threats that cross national borders. The highest priority disease threats are those that cross borders and potentially affect whole populations, such as pandemic influenza and drug resistant strains of malaria or tuberculosis. We work with partner countries and regional bodies to mobilise political leadership, technical support and financing to improve regional preparedness and response.
  3. A more effective global health response. We contribute to global initiatives, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Gavi - the Vaccine Alliance and United Nations programs which support our regional priorities. We work to improve the country level coordination and effectiveness of these initiatives, particularly in the Pacific.
  4. Investments in improved access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and nutrition. Inadequate access to WASH services contribute to the spread of disease and lost productivity through illness. We focus on improving access to WASH in households, schools and health centres, including by improving governance and regulatory frameworks and by mobilising private sector investment.
    Read more about Australia's support for water, sanitation and hygiene
    We also invest in better nutrition, as this lays the foundation for healthy and productive lives. Our priority is on improving nutrition during the first 1000 days of life, and for adolescent girls, because the effects of poor nutrition during these periods can last a lifetime. We also recognize that the causes of poor nutrition are multiple and complex and require multisectoral responses.
  5. Investments to promote innovations in health. We invest in new approaches to respond to the complex health challenges in our region. This includes new ways of doing business and developing partnerships with the private sector as well as the use of new technologies, research and learning. We are investing, for example, in the development of new drugs and diagnostic tools for malaria and tuberculosis.

Why we give aid

With education, health is among the six investment priorities of the Government's aid policy Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability. We invest in health because:

  • It works. Strategic, well targeted official development assistance in health achieves results. With increased coverage of cost-effective measures such as immunisation programs, the global number of child deaths has almost halved from 12.4 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012.
  • Investment in health gives a high economic return. Healthier adults are more able to work and children free of disease are better able to learn at school and gain the skills needed to break out of poverty. Globally, between 2000 and 2011, about 24 per cent of the growth in full income in low and middle income countries resulted from improvements in health.
  • It prevents communities falling into or staying in poverty. Many poor and vulnerable people, especially women and children, do not have access to timely, high quality, and affordable health care and good nutrition.
  • It protects our national interest, protecting us and our region from infectious diseases that pose major threats to economies and trade. In 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), an infectious viral respiratory disease, was estimated to have resulted in a US$40 billion global economic loss.
  • Gains in health and WASH have to be maintained, and at sufficient scale. Health interventions are not "set and forget", for example protection against the spread of vaccine preventable diseases can be achieved only if national yearly vaccination levels for infants and children are maintained at higher than 90 per cent. Surveillance and laboratory systems for infectious diseases will weaken if countries do not continue to prioritise them.

How we give aid

In making health investments, Australia works at country, regional and global levels and supports health research and innovation.

Our investments in health are context-specific and aligned to partner countries' priorities, results-focussed, and based on Australian comparative advantage. Our core priority is to influence partner country decisions on health policy, strategy and funding, towards more efficient and effective use of resources.

Country level

Our major bilateral country health investments in 2016-17 are in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Pakistan, Cambodia and Timor-Leste.

Related links

Regional level

Our regional investments focus on strengthening regional preparedness and capacity to respond to emerging health threats such as pandemic influenza and increasing drug-resistance to treatments for malaria and tuberculosis.

Related link

Global level

We invest in global public-private partnerships, multilateral agencies and international non-government organisations to extend the reach of our aid program to more countries and people, to promote investment in our region, and to develop innovative ways to improve health in our region.

Related link

Research and innovation

We are supporting research and innovation to develop more effective ways to improve health and prosperity in the region. This includes partnerships with the private sector such as Product Development Partnerships and between  DFAT and Bloomberg Philanthropies on the Data for Health Initiative.

Related links



Last Updated: 15 May 2017
Two men reading a brochure
Australia is helping to improve health systems and supports large-scale disease prevention and treatment.