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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4933


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (12:32): I rise to speak on this very important motion by the member for Fremantle and I thank her and indeed the member for Shortland for their ongoing support in the global fight to eradicate polio.

Just last week the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reported a confirmed case of wild poliovirus type 1 in a refugee camp in the Dadaab area in Kenya—the first of its kind since July 2011 which highlights why we continue to discuss this topic and why Australia must continue to do what it can to support the global eradication of polio.

The history of the global effort to eradicate polio is a success story of what countries can achieve when they work together. Until a vaccine was successfully developed in the 1950s, the poliomyelitis virus was an endemic disease for every country in the world. In 1952, 58,000 cases of polio were reported in the United States alone. While between 1930 and 1988, it is estimated that a minimum of 20,000 to 40,000 Australians developed paralytic polio, although exact figures are still unknown.

In many developed countries, the polio vaccine was successfully implemented as a routine immunisation effort to eradicate the disease and, soon after, the number of polio cases in the developed world dropped from hundreds of thousands every year to just a handful. The last reported case of polio in Australia was in 1978.

As this motion notes, eradication strategies have proven to be very effective when they are fully implemented, which is what occurred in developed countries. In fact many of the medical initiatives that we take for granted in the developed world today were implemented out of necessity for fighting the seriousness of polio epidemics.

Intensive care units had their origins in fighting polio. Before the 1950s, hospitals had little capacity for respiratory assistance for patients, and the first respiratory centre opened to treat severe cases of polio leading to the first intensive care unit opening in Copenhagen in 1953.

Additionally, polio endemic countries have been reduced from 125 to just three. As the motion notes, in February 2012, India was removed from the list of countries where polio remains endemic and where there has not been a single reported case since January 2011.

This global effort has meant that the incidence of polio has been reduced by 99 per cent since 1988. It is now a disease of which young people in developed nations are almost unaware. These changes would not have happened if Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative had not taken up the cause. They have worked relentlessly for the past 25 years to fight polio and as the figures previously mentioned indicate, they are getting very close to achieving their goal.

Rotary International's 1.2 million volunteers first took up the charge in 1985, spearheading the immunisation effort against polio before it became a coordinated campaign in 1988. They understood that this global disease would need a global effort if it were to be defeated. With over 33,000 clubs spread across 200 countries, Rotarians are well placed to engage with local governments and communities to ensure that polio eradication is at the top of everyone's agenda. Financially, Rotary itself has contributed well over $900 million to the polio-eradication effort, with its members volunteering their own time and resources to reach over two billion children with the oral polio vaccine.

Rotary's dedication to this cause has been unwavering, as has the dedication from Bill and Melinda Gates through their foundation. Last week Bill Gates visited Australia to reaffirm his commitment to polio eradication and to commend Australia on its contribution to this effort. In a column published in Australian newspapers on 28 May, he said:

Because Australia is increasingly seen as a leader in development, your investments serve as an example and an inspiration to other donors.

And he said:

Now, with polio cases at the lowest levels in history (the slope of that curve has been steep and downward, from 350,000 in 1988 to 223 last year), the organisation in charge of eradication activities has released a plan to get rid of the disease by 2018.

I am looking forward to Australia's continued leadership on this issue, which is my personal priority.

Eradicating polio is important for so many reasons. It proves we have the tools, like vaccines, to save lives. It proves that countries around the world have the systems and will to deliver these tools. And it proves that the world can come together to do something extraordinary.

Australia has been an important part not only of the polio story, but also of the larger development success story. These are achievements for which you deserve to feel proud.

He commended Australia for leading the fight when we hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2011 and for pledging more than $50 million for polio eradication. However, more can and must be done, as Mr Gates said, to restore polio to priority status on the global agenda.

Although we can now cross India off the list where polio is endemic, three remain: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. As I mentioned, there has been a confirmed case of wild polio virus in Kenya and in April one further case was confirmed in Somalia. These cases, however isolated, reinforce vigilance is required when dealing with polio.

As Rotary International put it so well: 'As long as polio threatens even one child, anywhere in the world, all children, wherever they live, remain at risk.' If just one child remains at risk then polio can very quickly make a comeback. Estimates show that global polio reinfection over time could result in as many as 200,000 per year being paralysed. It is also true that as we approach the final one per cent of cases of polio, which we hope to prevent, the marginal returns on our investment diminish. These final cases are difficult and expensive to prevent because of challenges, including geographic isolation, armed conflict and cultural barriers. I am all too well aware of how these challenges continue to affect war-torn Afghanistan. It is therefore lamentable that immunisation campaigns in 33 countries of Africa and Asia were cancelled or scaled back because there is a shortfall of some US$945 billion in the global polio-eradication initiative's implementation of the 2012-13 emergency action plan.

More recently, I welcomed the decision of the Australian government to provide $80 million over four years from 2015 to 2018. This contribution pales into insignificance when considering the US$1.8 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the 2013-18 Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan. That plan arose from a directive by the World Health Assembly and involves the Global Polio Eradication Initiative consulting with all relevant national health authorities, global health initiatives, scientific experts, donors and other stakeholders to finally eradicate and contain all cases of polio virus, 'such that no child ever again suffers paralytic poliomyelitis.'

I take this opportunity to again voice my concern about the government's decision to defer its promise to increase the foreign aid budget, instead raiding it of some $375 million. On the one hand the government announces an expansion to support polio eradication—not until 2015—and on the other hand it breaks its commitment to our nearest neighbours, who face challenges of equal measure including corruption, violence against women and other serious infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus.

Australia has been a leading light in the fight to eradicate polio from the world. The end is in sight. But more can be done, and more must be done. I strongly support this private member's motion to further the aim of global polio eradication.