Australian Government Agency for International Development (AusAID)
AusAID funds UNICEF to provide maternal, neonatal and child health and education programmes. Australia’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Dr Justin Lee, discusses Australia’s commitment to working alongside UNICEF to improve the living conditions of people in Bangladesh.
AusAID is a major donor of UNICEF’s maternal, neonatal and child health and education programmes in Bangladesh. Why are these issues of importance to the Australian Government, particularly in Bangladesh?
Australia, as a country of the region, supports Bangladesh’s prosperity and growth. Australia’s overseas aid programme in South Asia aims to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development. We prioritize basic health and education services, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Given the limited human resources available to support and manage AusAID investments, the Bangladesh country programme is currently delivered through multilaterals and international organizations.
The Australian Government is committed to support achievement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). Australia focuses on primary education and maternal, neonatal and child health because health and education indicators in Bangladesh are low and these two sectors are critical catalysts for moving people out of poverty. Australia also has considerable expertise to offer in both these sectors.
What improvements have you seen in the projects you support in Bangladesh recently (regarding the programmes you sponsor)?
Ongoing efforts to delegate authority and accountability to the local level has improved the school system. Training manuals for teachers have also been revised to promote better quality teaching and initiatives taken to incorporate gender and health-related programmes at the school level. But there is still a long way to go to improve education quality.
Australian-supported maternal, neonatal and child health projects are still in the early implementation stages. Baseline surveys have been conducted and capacity-building resources designed and tested. We are also seeing much closer cooperation between development agencies these days, including using common reporting indicators and processes and sharing expertise. This is a significant and welcome development.
Have you recently visited any local-level projects and seen first-hand the impact they are having on Bangladeshi communities?
I have visited a number of sites around Bangladesh and seen the development challenges facing the country. I have visited some projects providing free education for children who have dropped out of the formal education sector and seen the immense difference this support can make to the lives of them and their families.
AusAID officers monitor the progress of projects in the field frequently which helps identify areas where further improvement or attention is required. One of the challenges for UNICEF and the government is how to meet increased demand for services.
What are your priorities in the coming year with regards to work you are sponsoring in Bangladesh?
The Australian Government, in consultation with the Government of Bangladesh and other key partners, is planning to develop a country strategy that will set out the role and priorities of the Australian aid programme. At this stage, we expect the Australian programme will continue to support health, education and livelihoods development, as well as water and sanitation and climate change.
We are encouraging a greater focus on inclusive education, particularly pre-primary education and for children with disabilities. We will also continue to support maternal, neonatal and child health interventions with a particular focus on health workforce development.
AusAID supports programmes in Papua New Guinea, South Asia, East Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. How, in your opinion, is Asia (and Bangladesh in particular) progressing to meet the MDGs?
Impressive gains have been made towards meeting MDG targets, but it is clear that without further intervention and significant shift in policy commitment, progress will plateau and targets set for 2015 may not be achieved. This is particularly concerning for MDG 2 and 5.
Although the primary school net enrolment rate is high and Bangladesh is likely to fulfill the “Education for All” goal of universal primary education enrolment by 2015, significant improvement in quality and retention are needed to meet universal primary school completion goals. Gender equity is still an issue at all levels of education in Bangladesh.
Gains have been made in child and infant mortality rates, but more work is needed to improve neonatal and maternal survival rates. The level of child malnutrition in Bangladesh remains one of the highest in the world.