Online version of the 2012-13 Department of Health and Ageing Annual Report

Outcome 14: Biosecurity and Emergency Reponse

Preparedness to respond to national health emergencies and risks, including through surveillance, regulation, prevention, detection and leadership in national health coordination

Page last updated: 29 October 2013

Major Achievements

  • The increasing resistance to antibiotics poses serious risks to our health. To respond to what is described by the World Health Organization as “a looming crisis”, the Department, along with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, established the Australian Antimicrobial Resistance Prevention and Containment Steering Group.
  • Australia continues to be well placed to deal with new and emerging threats, following our response to the 2013 avian influenza outbreak. The Department worked closely with the World Health Organization, other Australian Government agencies and stakeholders to implement systems to detect, collect information and report on cases should they occur in Australia.

Challenges

  • Maintain the Department’s regulatory capacity to process the increase in applications for licences and permits to import, export and manufacture controlled drugs and substances.
  • Provide an effective regulatory response to the emergence of synthetic drugs.

Performance

This is a doughnut chart and a table that summarises the results for all deliverables and key performance indicators in outcome 14 during 2012-13. The results show that 57.1% were met compared with 75% in 2011-12, 42.9% were substantially met compared with 7.1% in 2011-12 and 0% were not met compared with 17.9% in 2011-12.

57.1% MET

42.9% SUBSTANTIALLY MET

0% NOT MET

Period Met Substantially met Not met
2012-13 57.1% 42.9% 0.0%
2011-12 75% 7.1% 17.9%

Program contributing to Outcome 14

Outcome Strategy

Outcome 14 aims to strengthen the nation’s capacity to identify, monitor and implement effective and sustained responses to national health emergencies and risks. In 2012-13 the Department worked to achieve this Outcome by managing initiatives under the program outlined below.

Program 14.1: Health emergency planning and response

Program 14.1 aims to provide national health emergency planning and response, improve biosecurity, drug and chemical safety, and minimise the risks posed by communicable diseases.

National health emergency planning and response

The Australian Government’s capacity to support a response to a health emergency was maintained through replenishment of pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment for the National Medical Stockpile. In 2012-13, the Department worked collaboratively with BioCSL to ensure the national capacity for antivenom production was maintained. In addition, the Department provided increased funding to BioCSL to guarantee the continued production and distribution of antivenom products to state and territory health departments.

The Department works collaboratively with states and territories to ensure Australia has the capacity to detect, assess and respond to the spread of disease, and to provide an appropriate public health emergency response. The Department also supports developing countries and countries with economies in transition to build, strengthen and maintain their core public health capacities.

In 2012-13, the Department continued to fund and collaborate with the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre based at Royal Darwin Hospital to maintain and improve a state of preparedness for response to major onshore and offshore incidents both in Australia and South East Asia. The Centre enhances preparedness nationally through a variety of activities such as trauma and disaster training for local and interstate clinicians. In addition, the Department continues to fund the Australian Red Cross Society for a broad range of health-related humanitarian work and community development activities. These include disaster preparedness and response, first aid and refugee support services nationally.

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Improve biosecurity, drug and chemical safety

The Department undertakes human health risk assessment policy and practice for veterinary medicines and pesticides on behalf of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

The Department is responsible for updating and maintaining the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP). The SUSMP publishes the schedules which form a national classification system that controls how medicines and poisons are made available to the public.

The Department is responsible for ensuring that Australia fulfils its obligations under international agreements relating to the regulation of chemicals and for collecting statistics about chemicals.

Chemical safety

The Department continued to provide advice to the APVMA about the public health effects of human exposure to chemicals and pesticides. The Department also considered the toxicology profile and intended uses of chemicals (and the products that contain them) and provided recommendations to APVMA on whether they were safe for use.

Management of controlled substances

Australia is a signatory to three international drug conventions – the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988. These conventions enable international cooperation in ensuring access to essential medications, while minimising the potential for diversion into illicit use.

Under these conventions, the Department is the Competent National Authority for Australia, and administers a framework for controlling the manufacture, import, export and supply of internationally controlled drugs in Australia. It does this with cooperation from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, law enforcement agencies and states and territories.

As required by the international drug conventions, in 2012-13 the Department monitored the stock and manufacture of internationally controlled drugs and monitored approximately 3.6 million wholesale transactions of these drugs within Australia. The data collected contributed to Australia’s reporting obligations, under the international drug conventions, and assisted states and territories with monitoring potential drug diversions.

Australia is a major global producer of narcotic materials from poppy cultivation, providing almost half the world’s legal supply. Careful control and supervision of all stages of poppy growing and production of narcotic raw materials is required under the international drug conventions. To facilitate this, the Department issued manufacturing licenses and permits under the Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 to regulate supply of narcotics, and provided regular reports on the cultivation areas, harvest and narcotic production to the International Narcotic Control Board to enable better regulation of global narcotic drug supply.

The Department cooperated with other countries to control the export of chemicals (precursors) that have the potential to be used to manufacture illicit drugs. Pre-export notifications provide an early warning system to countries and customs authorities of chemical shipments which may be diverted from licit channels. In 2012-13, there were 1,691 pre-export notifications processed by the Department for all precursor substances controlled under the international drug conventions.

An escalation of emerging drugs, including new psychoactive substances (NPS), and a continued rise in import and export activities has continued to present a challenge to the Department’s capacity to process applications to import and export drugs in a timely manner while ensuring regulatory compliance and meeting international reporting obligations. For 2012-13, the focus was on ensuring access to essential medications was maintained. This resulted in a 15% increase from 2011-12 in applications completed on time.

In 2012-13, the Department started regulating new drugs, which included six classes of synthetic cannabinoids and eight NPS. In addition, the Department moved to harmonise the import regulations with controlled drugs and prohibited drugs which are scheduled in the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons (SUSMP). The SUSMP provides the states and territories with guidance to enable consistent drug controls. By aligning the import regulations with the SUSMP, the Department and Customs add a further level of control at the Australian border, which assists drug control activities.

Minimise the risks posed by communicable diseases

The communicable disease issues facing Australia are diverse and associated with foodborne diseases, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria, sexually transmissible infections, vector-borne diseases, and vaccine preventable diseases. New and emerging diseases, such as Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus also pose a potential threat to public health.

The Department conducted national surveillance on 65 communicable diseases through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NNDSS) which enabled health authorities to respond to outbreaks in a timely manner. Additional surveillance data were also collected through the National Influenza Surveillance Scheme and OzFoodNet.

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Surveillance

In collaboration with states and territories, the Department’s National Surveillance Committee and other subcommittees worked to improve the quality, timeliness and completeness of national surveillance data. States and territories also collaborated with the Department on the Case Definition Working Group to ensure that nationally agreed case definitions were used by all jurisdictions for consistent case notifications.

Throughout the influenza season, influenza data were collected from all components of the national influenza surveillance system, and was analysed and reported fortnightly to decision makers, health professionals and the public.

The Department continued to work with the Influenza Surveillance Strategy Working Group to develop the national influenza surveillance systems to ensure that the epidemiology and virology of influenza across Australia can be measured.

In addition, the Department continued to fund Queensland Health to monitor and control the spread of Aedes albopictus mosquitos in the Torres Strait. Reports submitted by Queensland Health showed progress towards project objectives. In 2012-13, ongoing surveillance indicated that there was no established exotic mosquito (Aedes albopictus) population on mainland Australia, thus restricting the spread of dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases.

OzFoodNet

The Department funded OzFoodNet to enhance surveillance and investigation of foodborne disease in Australia in conjunction with jurisdictions. In 2012-13, OzFoodNet conducted an outbreak investigation of listeriosis with 34 cases, from six jurisdictions identified linked to products from a Victorian manufacturer of soft cheese. The Department liaised with state and territory authorities, the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia, and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand to identify the link between the consumption of soft cheese and these cases. Data from OzFoodNet’s National Enhanced Listeriosis Surveillance System was used to identify and monitor this outbreak.

OzFoodNet also continues to gather evidence on outbreaks of gastroenteritis associated with the consumption of raw or minimally cooked eggs. Foods commonly served with an uncooked raw egg ingredient such as chocolate mousse, tiramisu and sauces (aioli and mayonnaise) have been linked to outbreaks of salmonellosis. Data from the OzFoodNet Outbreak Register show that in 2011, around 20% of the outbreaks investigated by OzFoodNet were linked to the use of raw or minimally cooked egg.

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when a microorganism (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and some parasites) becomes resistant to an antimicrobial medicine to which it was originally susceptible. The WHO describes AMR as a “looming crisis” in which common and treatable infections are becoming life threatening with potential for substantial increases to health care system costs and financial burden to the community. In 2012-13, the Department began to develop a national antimicrobial resistance strategy. This will benefit all Australians by preserving the usefulness of antibiotics important to human and animal health and reducing costs to the health care system.

Biosecurity risks

In 2012-13, the Biosecurity Bill 2012 was introduced into Parliament to replace the century old Quarantine Act 1908. This Bill sought to provide a modern regulatory framework to better manage biosecurity risks, including human health risks entering, establishing and spreading in Australia. The Bill was to be jointly administered by the Department and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

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Outcome 14 – Financial Resource Summary

Program (A) Budget Estimate 2012-13
$’000
(B) Actual 2012-13
$’000
Variation (Column B minus Column A)
$’000
Program 14.1: Health Emergency Planning and Response 1
Administered Expenses
Ordinary Annual Services (Annual Appropriation Bill 1) 26,883 22,998 ( 3,885)
Non cash expenses - write down of assets 2 38,147 36,297 ( 1,850)
Special accounts
Human Pituitary Hormone Special Account 150 150 -
Departmental Expenses
Departmental Appropriation 3 24,208 23,151 ( 1,057)
Expenses not requiring appropriation in the current year4 1,515 1,769 254
Total for Program 14.1 90,903 84,365 ( 6,538)
Outcome 14 Totals by appropriation type
Administered Expenses
Ordinary Annual Services (Annual Appropriation Bill 1) 26,883 22,998 ( 3,885)
Non cash expenses 38,147 36,297 ( 1,850)
Special accounts 150 150 -
Departmental Expenses
Departmental Appropriation 3 24,208 23,151 ( 1,057)
Expenses not requiring appropriation in the current year 4 1,515 1,769 254
Total expenses for Outcome 14 90,903 84,365 ( 6,538)
Average Staffing Level (Number) 163 160 ( 3)
  1. This program includes National Partnerships paid to state and territory governments by the Treasury as part of the Federal Financial Relations (FFR) Framework.
  2. Non cash expenses relate to the write down of the drug stopckpile inventory due to expiration, consumption and distribution.
  3. Departmental appropriation combines 'Ordinary annual services (Appropriation Bill 1)' and 'Revenue from independent sources (s31)'.
  4. 'Expenses not requiring appropriation in the budget year' is made up of depreciation expense, amortisation, make good expense and audit fees. This estimate also includes approved operating losses - please refer to the departmental financial statements for further information.

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