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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8090


Mr COULTON (7:40 PM) —I would also like to commend the member for Ballarat for bringing this motion on polio survivors before the House and also for relating the experience of her mother. Often the best way of getting a message across in this place is through personal experience, and I thank the member for that.

I am honoured to be here tonight. Recently, I was asked to be a patron of Polio Australia—and I suspect that others in this room have been as well—and so it is a great honour for me to speak on polio tonight. The three previous speakers have probably covered this issue pretty well. However, I think the real issue is that, since the threat of another polio epidemic was put away in the late fifties and early sixties, polio as a disease has been largely neglected. I probably did not realise the significance of lining up with other kids in my class in primary school and being administered the very sweet tasting pink liquid that was presented on a tiny plastic spoon. At the time, it was not significant but I was probably one of the first generations to be largely polio free in Australia.

Polio survivors are one of the largest disability groups in Australia. There are tens of thousands of polio sufferers living in Australia today. This group includes not only Australians but also immigrants from countries where there were no mass immunisation programs for polio. Over the last 20 years, there has been increasing concern about the victims of polio succumbing to unexpected new symptoms 40 or more years after their initial infection. People in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s are experiencing what is called ‘post-polio syndrome’. The sinister nature of this syndrome is that it is often misdiagnosed and, hence, mistaken for other illnesses. The symptoms include fatigue, decreased strength and endurance, pain and weakness in muscles and joints, respiratory and sleep problems, swallowing and speaking difficulties, depression and anxiety. A whole raft of other illnesses would fit that description.

If post-polio syndrome is not detected early, it can lead to further complications. It is now generally agreed that, in order to minimise the severity of any new symptoms, early assessment and intervention is essential. After a full assessment, post-polio sufferers may be referred to one or all of the following: respiratory specialists, speech therapists, orthotists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists or a pain clinic.

One thing that I do not think has been discussed tonight and that is quite dangerous is that a person suffering from post-polio syndrome must avoid using many of the common drugs. These include muscle relaxants, cholesterol reducing medicines, local anaesthetics, general anaesthetics and painkillers such as aspirin for dysphagia. Polio Australia told us that, if someone is not properly diagnosed and they are being confronted with another illness, their life can be put at risk if these drugs are administered to them.

During the past 20 years numerous state based groups have been formed by polio sufferers. These groups are run by volunteers who suffer from post-polio syndrome themselves and who aim to provide information and support to their fellow sufferers. In the minute I have left I would like to pay tribute to that brave band of Polio Warriors. They march around this place and they knock on doors. They are underresourced and they are doing it for no other reason than to try and help their fellow man. Quite frankly, they are putting themselves through a great amount of discomfort in doing what they do.

I would also like to pay tribute to the people from Polio Australia. One of the things that I think I can do as a local member—and I have to admit to having trouble with how to word it—I hope without creating mass panic is to highlight in the newspaper that it is an issue that people need to be aware of. I am just struggling with how to do that without having all the doctors’ surgeries overrun with everyone believing they have got post-polio syndrome. With the help of Polio Australia I hope to do that.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.