A $32 million commitment to establishing a Pacific Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss Fund by The Australian Labor Party has been welcomed today by The Fred Hollows Foundation.
If delivered, the announcement will be the most significant increase in funding for avoidable blindness since the Government cut $11.3 billion from foreign aid in 2014.
Forty-thousand people are needlessly blind and 170,000 are severely vision impaired in the Pacific and this funding would make massive inroads into clearing the cataract backlog, said The Fred Hollows Foundation Chairman John Brumby.
"There is a blindness crisis in the Pacific. We know about 40,000 people are needlessly blind among our nearest neighbours. Four out of five of them don't need to be," Mr Brumby said.
"This funding boost will help us change the lives of tens of thousands of people who are needlessly blind and give them and their families a better future."
The funding would train more surgeons, nurses and health workers, build critical new infrastructure and reduce the cataract backlog, said Fred Hollows Foundation Founding Director Gabi Hollows.
"Fred would be so proud to know that we are continuing to help some of the poorest people with some of the highest rates of avoidable blindness in the world," Gabi said.
"Labor's commitment will make a tremendous difference, not just to the people who are blind, but to their whole families and communities."
Mr Brumby called on the Morrison Government to match the commitment.
"Today’s announcement is a critical first step in restoring Australia's aid program to internationally acceptable levels and showing our neighbours that Australia is committed to doing our fair share on the global stage," Mr Brumby said.
"We also call on the Coalition to offer bipartisan support to funding this crucial initiative in the Pacific."
Australia now spends only 21 cents on aid and development for every $100 of income with forward estimates predicting that unless more funding is committed Australia's aid budget will be at its lowest levels by the 2021-22 financial year at just 19 cents in every $100.
"Australia can afford to do more and must do more to help some of the poorest people in the world," Mr Brumby said.