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By Somerset Lewis and Caitlin Taylor

 

The Australian Embassy’s Sport and Literacy Packs initiative, which aims to provide every school across Timor-Leste with sport and reading equipment, is entering its final stages of distribution.

 

In a bid to ensure every Timorese child has the foundations needed to get a strong start in their education, Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Education and Care have assisted the Australian Embassy in reaching the country’s 1,370 schools.

 

“Each pack is being hand-delivered to each and every school,” Debbie Wong, first secretary in Education at the Australian Embassy, said. 

 

“The delivery has had to be timed carefully to ensure it is completed before the onset of the rainy season.”

 

Regardless of location, every primary school has received a literacy pack containing 332 early grade books in Tetun and Portuguese, equipping teachers with the tools to improve student’s reading abilities. 

 

“Classrooms filled with books, storybook reading, writing and play allow children to joy and power associated with reading and writing, while mastering basic concepts,” Ms Wong said. 

 

Secondary students, particularly those in remote areas of Timor-Leste, have also benefited from the initiative receiving two footballs, one volleyball, one volleyball net and an air pump.

 

Ms Wong says she hopes the sport packs will encourage children to get out and be active with their friends.

 

“Not only does sport improve physical health, it can build friendships, confidence an encourage greater levels of school attendance,” she said. 

 

The Australian Embassy and The Alola Foundation are providing guidance for teachers to ensure packs are used in the most effective manner. 

 

Teachers will be taught creative activities and games with the books and sports equipment.

 

 

Only a few schools in the eastern part of the country are still waiting to receive their packs, however are expecting the delivery this week. 

 By Caitlin Taylor and Somerset Lewis

The 11 member states of the World Health Organisation’s South-East Asia Region concluded talks last Friday following a week of discussions on health priorities facing the region. 

 

Representatives from Timor-Leste, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Bangladesh and The Maldives spent last week addressing health issues surrounding tobacco consumption, tuberculosis, malaria management and emergency risk management, at the 68th session of the committee meeting in Dili.

 

This year’s host country was the first to voice their concerns on the high prevalence of tobacco use across South-East Asia, and Timor-Leste in particular. 

 

Currently, the region accounts for over one-third of the world’s tobacco use, killing around 1.3 million here every year. Meanwhile, 56 per cent of Timor-Leste’s population are currently tobacco users, according to figures from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey. 

 

Director for the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Environmental Health for WHO, Dr Thaksaphon Thamarangsi, says without Timor-Leste, it’s unlikely tobacco consumption would have been adequately addressed. 

 

“Because of [Timor-Leste] tobacco control has become the agenda here,” he said. 

 

“This is the right time to have something very strong to control to control this most dangerous commodity (sic).”  

 

Another issue that has been on the region’s agenda for years is the elimination and control of malaria, as nearly 3.2 billion people continue to live in areas with risk of infection, according to WHO. 

 

In May the World Health Assembly adopted the Malaria Global Technical Strategy 2016-2030, which aims to reduce malaria deaths and disease by at least 90 per cent. But the task of tackling a variety of malaria strains means that the region’s overall strategy needs to be broadened. 

 

WHO’s Regional Director, Dr Poonam Khetrapal says the region now requires more targeted interventions for the P. vivax malaria, which is increasingly contributing to the disease’s global burden.  

 

“[P. vivax] is proving to be an extremely difficult parasite as it does not readily respond to the existing control measures and has the ability to remain hidden and beyond the reach of the currently available diagnostic tools and medication.”

 

Following the earthquakes in Nepal earlier this year and the spread of MERS Coronavirus, strengthening response to emergencies and outbreaks also became a key area of discussion this year. 

 

Throughout last week the Committee saw a demonstration of a Medical Camp Kit (MCK) that was used across Nepal this year, allowing for the adequate care of injured and displaced Nepalese. 

 

The solar powered kit contains everything needed in an emergency, including a staff room, consultation tent, a male and female ward, maternity tent and sanitation facilities, as well as a new water filtration system. 

 

“[The Kit] allows for some patients to be stabilised before you refer them, or to treat them for a few days because some of these patients travel from far away places to get there,” said Roderico Ofrin, the director of the Department of Health Security & Emergency Response. 

 

“It’s tailor made for Nepal, but it’s something we’d like to package generically because it can be used for other emergencies and it’s easy to reposition and send to a specific affected area.”

 

Timor-Leste has benefited from hosting last weeks committee meeting, with the country having been gifted the emergency MCK exhibited throughout the week, and the ability to interact with neighbouring nations.

 

 

“The benefit for us mainly is that we’re learning from other countries and we now know better (sic) about our health achievements,” says Dr Ana Isabel Soares, Timor-Leste’s Vice Minister for Health. 

By Tahlia Sarv 

 

The Australian Ambassador to Timor-Leste has acknowledged that Timor-Leste still has a long way to go in terms of safe water and sanitation, despite great attention and funding towards the sector. 

 

Currently, an estimated 300,000 people in Timor-Leste remain without access to safe drinking water, while 700,000 lack proper sanitation.

 

Australia will invest around $43 million by 2016 on phase two of the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Program (BESIK), which aims to provide reliable access to clean drinking water and sanitation to the rural population.

 

Already, under the first phase of the program, nearly 275,000 rural people have access to safe water, and almost 74,000 to sanitation.

 

Despite the successes, the question of water and sanitation remains a major issue for Timor-Leste. Australian Ambassador to Timor-Leste, Peter Doyle says one of the key problem areas is maintaining appropriate infrastructure. 

 

“A lot of the water systems have really degraded. I’m told in the past there were better water management systems than there are now, and an important point that we’re trying to get through is about operations and maintenance,” he said.

 

“The [Timorese] government and ourselves have invested a lot of capital investment in a water system which then for the want of a budget for a regular operation and maintenance program has not performed as well as it should.”

 

With funding cuts to the Australian aid budget, and diminished value of the Aussie dollar, Australia’s capacity to deliver on water projects can also be expected to shrink.

 

Ambassador Doyle says Australia will continue to work “patiently and persistently” with the Timorese government’s objectives. 

 

“We’re anticipating that we won’t have large amounts of cash, big capital investments, but what we will want to do is try and make existing investments and the way they are managed by the government done a bit better, so that we can see those real improvements,” he said.

 

“We’re actually changing the way that we do water, sanitation and hygiene, to make it less about the infrastructure which the government wants to do itself.”

 

“In the longer term see scope for more NGO and private sector engagement in water and sanitation which would we think deliver better services.”

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