CANBERRA — Amelia Christie took on the role of CEO of RESULTS Australia in September last year at a time of shifting local politics. The month before taking on the role, Australia had seen the appointment of a new prime minister and leadership team — including changes to the foreign minister and minister for international development and the Pacific. In April the federal election cycle hit — and the results saw a new leader for international development with the appointment of Alex Hawke.
For RESULTS, which supports volunteers to be advocates for global immunization programs, tuberculosis, and other diseases, these changes made a hard year even harder — the Global Fund replenishment in October, Global Polio Eradication Initiative replenishment in November and Gavi replenishment next year mean that advocates needed to hit the ground running on engaging with new parliamentarians to build support that will see new financial commitments to combat diseases.
Read more on advocacy
The work of advocates helped actuate a $13 million Australian dollar ($9 million) commitment for TB and an AU$242 million commitment to the Global Fund, which was a 10% increase on the 2016 pledge by the Australian government.
Speaking with Devex, Christie discussed the challenges she faced in her first year as CEO, and how RESULTS and its volunteers have tackled them.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you discuss your first year, how have you found the experience as a CEO?
I’ve loved working with RESULTS. I love the model, and the volunteers are so influential. I’ve been doing advocacy for a while, but what really surprised me is just how influential RESULTS can be politically — and that all comes from the volunteers and the long relationships they have established with MPs and senators.
What I like is that it is regular people that are talking about and advocating for these issues — even though they are not local issues.
There has been a lot going on but we have had quick wins like the Global Fund replenishment and achieving a commitment for TB. This is despite having had cuts to the Australian aid program — we are still seeing traction for issues we are advocating for.
What it really shows is that you don’t need a big group of people to create systemic change — you just need dedicated people. Doing it widely will create more attention, which is the long game.
The number of global replenishments has made this a big year, but it has come at a time when there have been shifts in the makeup of parliament following the election. How did that impact the way you are engaging parliamentarians?
I feel like the election was a long time ago now! We did lose some key champions but we also gained some new people that we can reach out to — which is what always happens with elections anyway. But it has been good that we are up to the same number of members of the TB caucus after losing quite a few.
Still, we are very aware that there are a lot of replenishments in short succession — we’ve got the Global Fund, then polio, and one for Gavi coming up in June. The challenge is in showing these as more than just health funding, to emphasize the significant impact these programs have in helping to strengthen health systems to tackle wider health issues.
With the succession of replenishments, is there any concern of overwhelming politicians — especially those just being introduced to these issues?
That was a concern. Making sure we framed things in the right way helped and the training we provide to volunteers is important there. I think talking about these issues as health security issues get more traction with particular politicians in Australia — it is explaining that these might not be domestic issues but they are important issues to watch and tackle for regional security.
We need a region that has strong health measures to deal with and respond to any outbreak — that is an important message.
As part of your advocacy work, you can educate politicians on diseases including TB that can help pave the way for researchers to be funded. Can you discuss the impact of this?
We do stuff in research and development, particularly on TB, because it is a disease that has not had that research. We’ve been using the same medicine for 100 years. TB is often neglected because it is a disease of poverty
We want to see something similar to the response to HIV. HIV, because it has had so much research and development and advocacy, has seen amazing developments in treatment and prevention. It is a chronic illness now rather than a death sentence. We have to see those gains in TB research and development because you can’t make money off it in comparison to dementia or cancer research.
So we do advocate for that and make sure Australia is putting up their fair share for research and development.
“We need a region that has strong health measures to deal with and respond to any outbreak — that is an important message.”— Amelia Christie, CEO, RESULTS Australia
Because awareness of TB is so low, it is hard for researchers asking for money. But with the advocacy we have been able to do, politicians understand why it is important. That is the intention of what we do.
We want money to go to the best people — including researchers or others — to achieve our organization's objectives. The Global Fund, for example, can funnel things out and then we don't have people on two- or three-year treatments for TB, which is pretty horrific and may not save their lives.
Australia has a really good track record of contributing to these kinds of things — but it is not necessarily an area for big pharma because the people who need it can’t pay for it.
What are some of the issues you are looking at for future advocacy?
Some stuff we are looking at is how climate change fits into what we are doing. If you build up the health and the infrastructure in the Pacific but then see the sea level rise of increasing temperatures increasing malaria, the investment may be wasted.
Health and climate are linked — and we need to find the best approaches in advocating on this issue.