Taking on deadly diseases in Timor-Leste

The Sydney Medical School Foundation has received a significant boost to its Timor-Leste Health Fund, thanks to the Rotary Club of Sydney, Rotary District 9675 and The Rotary Foundation.

Also known as Fundu Isin-Di’ak, which means “Fund for Good Health” in Tetun, the Timor-Leste Health Fund trains and educates Timorese health professionals in treating deadly diseases in order to build the medical workforce capacity.

Since 2012 the fund has been gifted $320,000 from the Rotary Club of Sydney and Rotary International Foundation with support from other Rotary Clubs and Rotary District 9675. Funds are currently supporting a program to eliminate two parasitic diseases from Timor-Leste – lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, and intestinal worms, which include hookworm.

Funds have also supported the employment of a Timor-based project officer to provide on-the-ground support for this large scale program.

Over the past six years, Sydney Medical School has forged strong relationships with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health, with the aim of promoting health-related research, teaching and capacity-building activities within the country.

“The financial support from Rotary is incredibly important. Our mission is to improve the health of the people of Timor-Leste and this injection of funds is playing a huge role in our work with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health, implementing large-scale public health programs,” says Professor Peter McMinn, Bosch Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Sydney and Chair of The Timor-Leste Health Fund.

Lymphatic filariasis affects up to 20 percent of the Timorese population and causes extensive swelling of limbs and other parts of the body. This debilitating disease can however, be effectively treated.

Intestinal worms affect up to 30 percent of children in Timor-Leste, causing anaemia and malnutrition. This is also highly treatable.

“This year, with our support, the Ministry of Health has launched a five year program of annual mass treatment with two anti-parasitic drugs.  Our goal is to eliminate both of these debilitating diseases from the country. The training provided to health professionals during this period will ensure that these infections never recur. The success of this project will make a substantial difference to the wellbeing and quality of life for many Timorese people,” adds Professor McMinn.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support of Rotary, particularly Mr James Allen who made this his President’s Project in 2012/2013 when he was President of the Rotary Club of Sydney and remains heavily involved with the Fund.

“Additionally we’re very pleased that the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health, with the support of other aid organisations, has thrown its full support behind this critical development program, which will greatly assist in making our vision for a healthier Timor-Leste a reality.”

The Sydney Medical School Foundation Timor-Leste Health Fund (Fundu Isin-Di’ak) was established in 2011. University of Sydney Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson has recently agreed to accept the role of Patron of the Fund, following on from her predecessor, Her Excellency Dame Marie Bashir.

The fund hopes to expand the scope of the current project to cover all thirteen Districts in Timor- Leste and is currently seeking further philanthropic support.

To find out more about this project and how to support it, contact daniel.martin@sydney.edu.au.