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Too many health meetings

Monday 16 February 2015 | Published in Regional

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THE PACIFIC – Pacific health officials are attending “too many meetings” in return for aid and not enough time “doing their jobs”, a policy expert says.

Researchers and policymakers from across the region have gathered for a two-day Australasian aid conference in Canberra.

Co-speaker Joel Negin, senior lecturer in international health at the University of Sydney, said the conference has heard how the high volume of meetings in the Pacific was placing a huge burden on health departments.

“A permanent secretary or a health officer in some of the smaller Pacific island countries are being invited to meetings every few weeks,” he told the ABC.

“Some of them are spending 50 per cent of their time overseas at legitimate and valuable meetings.

“But it means that they’re out of the office more than half the time – which means they are not on the ground working with partners, working out in the provinces doing their jobs.

“And that’s not a situation that suits either side of the spectrum.”

Australia is the largest donor in the Pacific islands region, with $196.9 million put aside for its Pacific aid programme in 2014/2015.

Professor Negin said governments and health bodies needed to look at ways of reducing the size of the aid architecture to improve services in the region.

“In the Pacific it’s crowded,” he said. “There are more than 300 international organisations – NGOs, WHO, UNICEF – all acting in the health space globally, and a lot of those are also active in the Pacific.

“So you have lots of people often doing the same thing in very small countries, and that leads to huge fragmentation and complexity.

“The fragmentation has led to people competing over funding, competing for attention as opposed to working together for the betterment of health.”

There were also the risks of unnecessary focus on certain issues or duplication of services, Professor Negin said.

“In the Pacific there are probably six or seven different organisations all working on HIV in the region, even though there is a fairly low burden of HIV,” he said.

“Another example is from Solomon Islands where malaria is of course a priority issue, you have Rotary International, Global Fund, the Australian and Japanese aid agencies, the Solomon Islands government, you have some NGOs all working in malaria.

“And you would think that they would all be sitting at table together coordinating what they are doing, but of course that’s not quite the case.”