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[APIA, SAMOA] The Australian government is planning to boost support for medical research, technology and innovations that will help save lives in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Australian Agency for International Development's (AusAID) draft Medical Research Strategy for the Pacific, also aims to encourage collaboration and capacity building aimed at poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases.

The strategy says there are hardly any financial incentives for commercial investment in diseases affecting the poor, who bear the biggest burden of disease.

The draft strategy outlines how AusAID will support research both at the "preventative end and at the curative end" to create new medical products such as diagnostics, drugs or vaccines, and to improve the clinical treatment of people in poor communities.

The strategy fits within the Australian government's overall policy of making aid more effective.

"Practical research will help inform where and how the resources of Australia and its partners can be most effectively and efficiently deployed," an AusAID spokesperson based in Canberra told SciDev.Net.

The spokesperson said the medical research strategy resulted from the Australian Government's Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness in 2011, which specifically mentioned the need for AusAID to invest more resources in research.

Jaime C. Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, said AusAID's move is an unusual one for a donor agency but a welcome one for recipient countries.

Montoya said that strategies targeting health support are usually topic or area-based. Moving away from this, the operational strategy suggested by AusAID is better-suited to the realities of primary health care in developing countries.

For instance, Montoya said, current research tends to focus on hospital-based settings, when in fact many people in poorer countries are treated in rural clinics, which are often poorly equipped and ill-suited to long-term or emergency care.

Philip Hill, professor of international health and foundation director of the Centre for International Health at the University of Otago's faculty of medicine, in New Zealand, has also welcomed the initiative.

"AusAID are to be applauded for this Medical Research Strategy document. They can see clearly the value, from the aid point of view, in supporting medical research. They have focused on some key areas that are globally important in health."

Link to draft strategy [293kB]

This article has been produced by our South–East Asia desk.