Health Fact Sheet 4 - Protecting the nation against health threats

Australia's emergency health response will be expanded with a national influenza centre and National Centre for Trauma and Critical Care in Darwin. Our defence against illicit drugs will be stepped up.

Page last updated: 10 May 2005

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10 May 2005

Protecting the nation against health threats

Expanding Australia’s emergency health response

An independent national influenza centre

The Australian Government will provide new funding of $23.2 million over four years from 2005-06 to set up a state of the art independent national influenza centre - the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza.

The centre will provide Australia with direct access to the WHO global influenza network, international influenza experts and early warning on global developments.

The new facilities will give Australia the capacity to work with highly pathogenic influenza strains such as avian influenza (bird flu). The funding will also ensure that Australia continues to host this important centre, which has developed world-leading expertise in influenza.

Royal Darwin Hospital - ready to respond to regional emergencies

The Government has delivered on its election commitment to provide $65.8 million over the five years from 2004-05 to increase Australia’s capacity to treat casualties in the event of a major national emergency.

The Royal Darwin Hospital will receive funding to set up a National Centre for Trauma and Critical Care and maintain a constant state of readiness. The centre will also enhance Australia’s ability to mount a prompt and effective health response to any emergency involving significant casualties in northern Australia or nearby countries.

This funding will provide:
  • expanded capacity in the burns unit;
  • enhanced accident and emergency facilities;
  • the capacity to reactivate five operating theatres;
  • provision of emergency stocks of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment;
  • access to incident ready radiology facilities (including a Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine);
  • the establishment of Chairs of Trauma Medicine and Critical Care;
  • improved linkages with other aero-retrieval and emergency services; and
  • the rapid deployment of a skilled and trained medical workforce, both from within the Northern Territory and from other jurisdictions.
The additional facilities at the Royal Darwin Hospital will be made available for national priorities in the event of a major incident, but will also be available to residents of the Northern Territory on a day-to-day basis.

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Stepping up Australia’s defence against illicit drugs

In the past nine years, the Government has provided more than $1 billion for its Tough on Drugs strategy. A variety of indicators show that the comprehensive strategy is working to reduce both the supply of, and the demand for, illicit drugs in Australia.

New funding of $21.9 million includes:
  • $12.0 million for the Non-Government Organisation Treatment Grants Program;
  • $1.0 million for the Australian National Council on Drugs;
  • $8.0 million for Indigenous Communities Drug and Alcohol initiatives (reported in Fact Sheet 5); and
  • $850,000 for the National Illicit Drugs Campaign.

Non-Government Organisation Treatment Grants Program

An additional $12.0 million will be provided in 2006-07 and 2007-08 to the Non-Government Organisation Treatment Grants Program to ensure existing services can continue to operate after the current contracts end in June 2006. This program has been extremely successful in increasing the number of treatment and rehabilitation places in Australia. Since the program began in 1997, more than $124 million has been provided in funding. About 170 services across Australia are presently funded.

The Australian National Council on Drugs

An additional $1.0 million will be provided from 2005-06 to 2007-08 to the Australian National Council on Drugs, in recognition of increased costs associated with the responsibilities of advising the government. The council is the key independent policy advisory body on drug issues and comprises experts from voluntary and community organisations, law enforcement, and the health and social welfare areas.

National Illicit Drugs Campaign

An additional $850,000 will be provided in 2005-06 to extend the current National Illicit Drugs Campaign aimed at preventing young people from using illicit drugs.

This amount will bring the total campaign budget to $13.1 million over 2004-05 and 2005-06 and includes national advertising, public relations activities, booklets, a web site and a telephone information line. The new campaign builds on the results of the 2001 campaign which was effective in encouraging discussions about drugs between parents and young people.

Termination of the Retractable Needle and Syringe Initiative

The Retractable Needle and Syringe Initiative is being ceased as a result of trials which showed that the available technology was not appropriate for the use required and could represent a health risk.

The evidence-based trials examined the acceptability of retractable needle and syringe equipment by injecting drug users.

The trials showed, however, that retracting the needle outside the body resulted in a visible blood splatter, raising possible health risks of blood-borne infections. The retractable needles used were designed for injection into muscles, usually in clinical settings. The pilots showed that the available technology was not appropriate for injection into veins by injecting drug users.

This would have cost the Government $51.1 million to 2008-09 which will be used on other programs.

Of Substance, the national magazine on tobacco, alcohol and other drugs

Health professionals working in the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs sector will receive information on current research and best practice free of charge through the distribution of the Of Substance magazine.

The Government will increase its support for this publication by providing an additional $1 million over three years. As a result, professionals working in the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs sector will no longer have to pay a $50 annual subscription fee for this important publication. The cost of this measure will be absorbed from within the Health and Ageing Portfolio.

A review of the dissemination strategy will be undertaken after the second year of the increased funding.

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National Tobacco Campaign

Diseases caused by smoking including lung cancer and heart disease continue to cause a heavy toll on the health of Australians and on the health sector.

While overall smoking rates have fallen to record low levels, too many young people are still taking up smoking. 16 per cent of males and 19 per cent of females aged between 12 and 17 smoke.

The Government will provide $25.0 million over the four years from 2005-06 for a new national tobacco campaign. The campaign will primarily target youth, but messages will also be aimed at parents. Studies have found that adolescent perceptions of their parents’ attitudes to smoking can have a strong impact.

The campaign will aim to strengthen young people’s resilience and capacity to embrace tobacco-free lifestyles.

Other strategies will include counselling services and developing educational web sites and a focus on working closely with state and territory ‘Quit’ services.

Funding boost for immunisation

Essential vaccines - improved advice and support

The Immunise Australia Program will be improved through new immunisation policy advisory structures and better infrastructure, at a cost of $12.8 million over the next four years to 2008-09.

The new advisory arrangements will clarify the process for recommending vaccines for government funding while increasing the consistency and transparency of the process for industry and the community.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) will receive additional funding support to strengthen its ongoing role in providing evidence-based clinical advice on the medical administration of vaccines. Additional funding of $5.0 million over the next four years will be provided to support the work of ATAGI, to bolster immunisation research and to monitor the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases.

New funding of $7.8 million over the next four years will be provided to expand the role of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to include evaluating the cost effectiveness of new vaccines for funding under the government’s National Immunisation Program.

Under this new arrangement the Pharmaceutical Benefits Pricing Authority will also be used for vaccine price setting.

Essential vaccines - childhood varicella vaccination program

The Australian Government will provide $77.2 million over the five years from 2004-05 for free varicella (chickenpox) vaccine for children 18 months of age. A ‘catch-up program’ will also be available for adolescents 10-13 years who have not previously received the chickenpox vaccine or who have not had the disease. The vaccination program will begin on 1 November 2005 and was announced on 7 March 2005.

Chickenpox is usually a mild illness that mainly affects children, but in some people it can cause severe complications such as pneumonia and inflammation of the brain, and in extreme cases, can be fatal.

About 1,500 hospitalisations and eight deaths related to chickenpox occur every year in Australia, mostly in young children.

Essential vaccines - replacement of oral polio vaccine with inactivated polio vaccine

The Government will allocate $61.6 million over four years from 2005-06 to replace oral polio vaccine with inactivated polio vaccine to eliminate the possibility of people contracting vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis.

Oral polio vaccine is currently administered at two, four and six months and four years of age. The introduction of inactivated polio vaccine will not result in extra injections being given because a number of combination vaccines are available that contain this vaccine.

The inactivated polio vaccine program will begin on 1 November 2005 and was announced on 7 March 2005.

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