Health sector pushes for certainty on establishment of an Australian Centre for Disease Control

Health groups are urging the Albanese government to lay out a clear timetable and allocate resources to fulfil an election commitment to establish a new Australian Centre for Disease Control.

The promise to establish a CDC was made in the middle of the Covid pandemic in late 2020, with the new centre to focus on future pandemic preparedness, the control of infectious disease outbreaks and preventing chronic and infectious diseases.

It has broad support from across the health sector, with Australia the only OECD country without a CDC equivalent.

Last week’s budget included a $3.2m commitment to begin consultation on the design of the new centre with a meeting with stakeholders scheduled by the health department for late November. Labor has not revealed the total cost of the commitment.

The chief executive of the Public Health Association, Terry Slevin, said the new centre would be “the most important change in Australia’s public health architecture for generations”. He called for greater detail and investment certainty ahead of the May budget next year.

“This is one of the cornerstone parts of Labor’s health policy and while it will take time to figure out how to best put this together – and it’s legitimately important to do that – a clear process and a clear timeline and identifying the budget … should be part of what is a vitally important entity for the health of Australians into the future,” Slevin said.

He also said there were “high expectations” the centre would be established before the next election, saying this would require substantial financial commitments in the next two budgets.

“I would be astounded if the CDC wasn’t commenced and up and running before the end of the first term of an Albanese government,” Slevin said. “I am really optimistic that that would be the case, and we are going to do all that we can to make it as successful as it possibly can be.”

The Australian Medical Association president, Prof Stephen Robson, said the organisation had been lobbying for a Centre for Disease Control since 2017 and welcomed the initial budget allocation.

“Establishing the Australian CDC is essential as we continue to navigate the pandemic response, a changing climate, emerging disease threats and the concerning burden of preventable diseases impacting Australians,” Robson said.

“The AMA looks forward to supporting the early consultation phase for the Australian CDC as we now turn our attention to longer-term government investment in the May 2023 budget.”

The federal health minister, Mark Butler, said the government would deliver its commitment to establish a CDC in this term of government.

“Australia is the only OECD country without a CDC equivalent and the former government had not led a national pandemic drill for 12 years,” he told Guardian Australia.

“Despite infectious disease experts calling for a CDC for decades, the former government refused to establish effective pandemic control bodies like a CDC.”

He said that establishing an effective CDC required active involvement from states, territories and the medical research community.

“That’s why the government is currently considering a range of options with respect to a future Australian CDC model and over coming months, there will be extensive opportunities for wide consultation.”

A spokesperson for the health department said consultation over the next two months would be through submissions to a consultation discussion paper, which is yet to be publicly released.

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