Pandemic amnesia as ACDC gets zero funding

Public Health Association of Australia

The Albanese Government’s third budget since its 2022 election promise of an “improved pandemic preparedness and response” by establishing an Australian Centre for Disease Control (ACDC) has once again failed to fully fund this vital health institution.

An “Interim ACDC” was set up with $90m over two years in the 2023 budget, but thus far has been basically invisible to the public. The future of the agency remains unclear.

“The absence of any budget line item for the ACDC suggests pandemic amnesia four years after the lives of everyone in Australia was upended,” Public Health Association of Australia CEO, Adj Prof Terry Slevin said.

“An ACDC must serve many functions, including leading the national effort to properly prepare for future pandemics, which infectious disease experts have repeatedly warned are likely to happen.

“We had hoped that this budget would contain clear resource allocation and timelines explaining how and when the Albanese Government would fulfil its election promise to establish and fund the ACDC. That hope has been dashed.”

ACDC requires preparation

COVID-19 changed the world, and upended life in Australia for more than two years, and has had lasting effects. Responsible governments invest to prepare their countries for future likely events that may mimic or exceed COVID-19 as a threat to the health of people in Australia.

The Australian Government heavily invests in defence to manage and reduce risks and responds significantly to major fires with greater investment in firefighting capacity and infrastructure.

Its response to the public health crisis must be significant and take a long-term view to minimising future health risks not just from infectious diseases, but also preventable chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases which cost billions to treat.

“This budget failed to give certainty to the future of disease control in Australia, which should be our chance to reduce the burden of health threats both known and unknown. As we learned in 2020/21, unless we have a healthy population, we cannot have a healthy economy,” Prof Slevin said.

“This budget kicks the election commitment to establish a real ACDC down the road again. It builds enormous expectations for the pre-election MYEFO – assuming there is one. If not, we fear this vitally important 2022 election commitment to the health of future generations of people in Australia may fail to materialise.”

Other Public Health measures

“That aside, we welcome $43.9m to tackle HIV/AIDS, and $126m for expanded testing, treatment and prevention, including extending access to point-of-care testing for First Nations people and rural and remote communities.

“The $71m for cancer prevention, screening and treatment programs will save lives and improve people’s heath. We continue to support the government’s strong leadership on tobacco and vaping.

“Of the nearly $500m allocated for sport, only $130m goes to community sport. But creating a physically active nation must go far beyond what happens on the sporting field. $300m is for the Australian Institute for Sport and elite drug testing. People may love the AIS and support clean Olympians – but that is not about preventive health.

“One vital social determinant of health is housing, and we are pleased to see significant money toward housing.”

Big picture missing

Looking at the big picture, Australia still spends less than 2% of health spending on public and preventive health measures. Of this $1.3b package, $600m is for ongoing COVID-19 vaccinations which are vital to retain and support.

“Investing a mere 5% of health spending in prevention would make a real difference to the health of people in Australia both now and over the long term,” Prof Slevin said.

/Public Release.