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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4943


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (13:16): I commend the member for Fremantle and other speakers on this important motion about the eradication of polio. Polio is a disabling and potentially fatal disease. Whilst there is currently no cure for the disease there are safe and effective vaccinations to ensure its eradication.

Polio is a highly-infectious disease which invades the nervous system and acts quickly, so quickly it can cause irreversible paralysis within a matter of hours. In 1988 the global eradication of polio effort began, led by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and Rotary International. At this time the wild polio virus was endemic in 125 countries and about 350,000 people, mainly young children, were paralysed by polio annually. Today, thanks to immunisation efforts, the number of polio cases throughout the world has decreased by more than 99 per cent, in turn saving more than 10 million children from paralysis.

PolioPlus is the volunteer arm of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. It is the most ambitious program in Rotary's history. Rotary has been a leader for more than 25 years in the global effort in the private sector to rid the world of polio and has contributed more than US$1 billion. I am proud to say that the Rotary clubs in the Riverina, and there are many of them, continue to do all they can by way of fundraising in an effort to rid the world of this dreadful scourge.

The global eradication initiative focuses on four key initiatives to stop the transmission of the polio virus. Routine immunisation ensures four doses of the oral polio vaccine are administered in the first year of life, a critical way to ensure polio-free countries continue to protect children from the threat of imported polio. National immunisation days are held, and have been for decades, where Rotarians provide funds through the PolioPlus program for millions of drops of vaccine, promoting the campaign in communities, distributing the vaccine to health centres as well as serving as monitors and working with local officials to reach every child. Furthermore, Rotarians work alongside health professionals and others to find, report and investigate cases of acute flaccid paralysis ideally within 48 hours of onset.

PolioPlus helps fund containers which preserve the integrity of stool samples during their delivery to laboratories. The program has also helped to provide equipment for global polio virus laboratories. The final strategy is targeted mop-up campaigns, which are similar to National Immunisation Day volunteering but on a smaller scale, often going house to house.

Australia was declared polio free in 2000 and that was widely attributed to high rates of immunisation. I appreciate there is a vaccination debate going on at present but certainly the benefits far outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, there are still three polio-endemic countries in the world: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In 2012 the total number of wild virus cases reported was 223 with Nigeria reporting 122, Pakistan 58, Afghanistan 37, Chad five and Niger one. Several other countries also saw outbreaks of vaccine-driven polio which took the total number of cases to 291. This is the smallest number on record and is further proof that the eradication initiative is working.

Last year, I was able to meet Isabel Thompson, a constituent of mine from Wagga Wagga, to discuss funding needs for those living with polio. Mrs Thompson gave me an insight into the challenges she faces daily and the importance of ensuring assistance is available to help those living with polio.

The success rate of eradicating polio around the world is to be highly commended. In addition to eradicating polio from so many countries around the world, the type 2 virus was actually eradicated in 1999, leaving only two wild polio viruses still in existence.

Thankfully, the Taliban has ended its war on polio vaccination workers. Its leadership admitted on 13 May that immunisation is the only way to protect children from the disease. This declaration came just weeks after the Afghan government launched a new campaign to immunise more than eight million children between six-months-old and five-years-old throughout the country. It said it had trained 46,000 volunteers to conduct the campaign, funded by the American aid agency USAID, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Efforts to eradicate the disease have been sabotaged in the past by the Taliban and other Islamic militants, who have assassinated immunisation workers in the three countries where polio remains a serious threat. Eleven polio workers were killed in Pakistan last year, including five women who were shot dead in Karachi in December. In Afghanistan, a 16-year-old girl involved in an antipolio vaccination campaign in Kapisa province was shot six times in the stomach outside her home last December and died later in hospital. That is absolutely tragic.

Thankfully the Taliban has now recognised the benefits of immunisation. Thankfully, Rotary is proceeding with what they need to do to help eradicate it. I commend the government in a bipartisan way for doing what they can too.