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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1083

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (19:44): I rise today in this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2012-13 to speak of a delegation to Myanmar that I had the privilege of being a member of late last year that was sponsored by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, GAVI. We had the opportunity to see firsthand some of the excellent work being done to ensure that the need of people in underdeveloped countries around the world for access to vaccination and immunisation programs. This was in a country coming back into mainstream international society. Myanmar is a nation that faces a range of challenges arising from the last 50 years that many members would be aware of. There are challenges there of a democratic nature and certainly challenges from a developmental point of view.

I had the privilege while I was there with colleagues to see what is being done by GAVI to try and ensure that the children of Myanmar get access to vaccinations that we in Australia take for granted, vaccinations that save lives and that provide people with the opportunity to live active lives and to be productive members of their society. GAVI takes an innovative approach to ensuring that aid dollars are spent effectively and efficiently. How effectively our aid dollar is spent is often a cause for debate in Australia. On particular occasions one could look and scratch your head and wonder whether that is in fact the best way to go. But I would like to ensure the House that, when we look at the money from Australian and international sources through GAVI, we can be very confident that the work that is being done is producing fantastic results.

GAVI came out of a recognition internationally that there were real problems around immunisation levels. There had been significant improvements through the mid 1970s up until the early 1990s thanks to WHO and the UNICEF Universal Child Immunisation campaign and a remarkable 80 per cent of the world's children were being immunised with the six EPI vaccines—tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles and polio. But in the 1990s, that pretty much ground to a halt. We were still in a situation coming up to the start of this millennium such that there were some 30 million children not immunised. These 30 million children in developing countries were in need of assistance.

This was something that caught the interest of a range of people, in particular people like the head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, who convened a summit of WHO, UNICEF, academics, health ministers, international agencies and the pharmaceutical industry in March 1998. Their agenda was: how do we start getting vaccines to children who need them most? Bill and Melinda Gates, through their foundation, also got involved some six months later. They hosted a dinner at their home for leading scientists to discuss what could be done to overcome the barriers preventing millions of children from receiving basic vaccines. Bill and Melinda challenged their guests to come back with proposals for breakthrough solutions. A second summit occurred in March 1999 in Italy. Rather than the setting up a new international organisation, out of that process came a commitment from the existing major players to work together in a new partnership, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.

The point of that process was to try to work out the best way to work with what we had and to try and address the key problems with respect to the operation of the system. It focused on four major strategic goals: accelerate the uptake and use of underused and new vaccines; contribute to strengthening the capacity of integrated health systems to deliver immunisation; increase the predictability of global financing and improve the sustainability of national financing for immunisations, and; shape vaccine markets to ensure adequate supply of appropriate quality vaccines at low and sustainable prices to developing countries. It is an innovative model. Through significant funding from 20 donors they have been doing great work. GAVI has been able to contribute to the achievement of major progress. More than 370 million children have been immunised to data and more than 5.5 million children's lives saved in 72 countries—not counting many more children who will not become ill and will therefore be able to achieve the full potential of their lives.

Currently, GAVI supports vaccines such as pentavalent, pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, rotavirus, human papillomavirus, measles second dose, meningococcal A conjugate, rubella and yellow fever. It also has measles campaigns in selected countries, outbreak responses to meningitis, and yellow fever vaccine stockpiles. The GAVI Alliance is also looking ahead to see what else might be able to be done. It is looking at what new vaccines are coming forward. It is seeing what it can do to ensure that it does not stop where it is but moves forward to ensure that the needs of developing countries and their communities are met.

GAVI are not just about providing support; they are also about making countries more able to help themselves. This is about working together to ensure that we build the capacity within developing countries and that there is a commitment from those developing countries with respect to what is being done. GAVI do that by working with governments and by seeking commitments from those governments around the question of what the priorities should be, and they do this by trying to build, with international organisations, the health infrastructure in countries to ensure that they are able to most effectively deal with these issues.

In 2011, GAVI set itself an ambitious target to help vaccinate nearly a quarter of a billion additional children and to help avert an additional four million future deaths by 2015. Since 2000, GAVI has approved support for vaccines in 77 countries, including locally in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. A review by the Australian government and multilateral organisations in 2011 found GAVI to be among the world's top performers in delivering cost-effective results, with a measurable life-saving impact. This follows GAVI's strong performance in similar reviews undertaken in the UK and also in Sweden. As I said, GAVI brings together the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the World Bank, civil society, the vaccine industry in industrialised and developing countries, research and technical agencies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as other foundations and philanthropists who are working together to produce real outcomes.

The work that we saw in Myanmar was significant. We went to towns and villages and saw what was actually happening to assist the provision of these vaccines. We saw lives being saved. We saw children who will live as a result of the assistance and help they got and are getting through these programs. There is no doubt that it is working on the ground. We visited cold stores, which are part of the delivery supply chain. We spoke to experts in country. We spoke to families about what this program meant for them in their circumstances. From all of that, we got a real understanding of the significance of this program and the work that it is doing in this nation and right throughout the developing world.

As I said, GAVI work on building a commitment with countries who are being provided with this assistance. GAVI are doing this by ensuring that they determine jointly what the needs are, they applying for funding and they oversee the implementation of their programs. They also work through innovative finance mechanisms to ensure that money can be provided. Through one particular international finance facility for immunisation they have raised more than $3.6 billion over the last few years by tapping into the capital markets—and this was on top of the work being done by a range of nations, including Australia.

It is also all about a private-public partnership developing advanced market solutions—commitments that actually ensure that we do things that can be done, we use markets effectively and, in that way, we maximise the value of the dollar. That is what it is about: ensuring that we maximise the value of those dollars, because there are many millions of children who are in danger; there are many millions of children who need assistance. The GAVI Alliance is providing assistance to many of those children, and it has been doing so over the last few years and it will be doing so in the years ahead.

Myanmar, which I mentioned, is very much a country that is moving out of international isolationism and, hopefully, is seriously looking at how it engages with international society. I think GAVI and its programs are part of that and are showing the way in which the authorities in Myanmar are prepared to consider new approaches in providing for the needs of their communities and, through those processes, providing real and lasting solutions to some of the health crises that they face.

I was joined on the delegation by a number of colleagues, including the honourable Teresa Gambaro, the member for Brisbane; Stephen Jones MP, the member for Throsby; and Senator Anne Urquhart, from Tasmania. We were also joined by two New Zealand MPs, Ms Katrina Shanks and the honourable Maryan Street, National and Labour MPs, as well as a range of international organisation representatives—Marc Purcell, the Executive Director of the Australian Council for International Development, and Mr Bill Bowtell, the Executive Director of Pacific Friends for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

I would particularly like to put on record my thanks to the GAVI people who looked after us and who accompanied us on this trip, particularly GAVI board chairman, Mr Dagfinn Hoybraten—who luckily is not here to hear me mispronounce his name! Dagfinn was a very gracious host and an excellent leader of the delegation and ensured that we got a real hands-on understanding of what GAVI is doing in this developing market. He is a Norwegian member of parliament—and a very dapper dresser. GAVI Secretariat Deputy Chief Executive Officer Ms Helen Evans was also of great assistance in ensuring that our questions were answered and our understanding of what is being done was complete. They were assisted by a number of others, including Ms Nilgun Aydogan and Ms Li Zhang, as well as Phil Davey, a media consultant acting on their behalf to ensure that these messages got out back here in Australia—that the message of the excellent work that is being done was understood in the broader Australian community.

We were also joined by Mr John Hill and Mr Peter Mullins, a reporter and a cameraman from Channel 10. They sent back some really interesting segments for Channel 10 news, which went to not only the issues facing Myanmar as a society that is in transition but also the nature of the excellent work that is being done through the GAVI programs to ensure that children get access to the medications they need. Through that and through a range of meetings with local officials, as I said, as well as with officials from international organisations based in Myanmar, we had the opportunity to really get an understanding of the excellent work that is being done.

There is no doubt that this is a commitment that the Australian government should maintain, and it is a commitment that the international community must maintain. I note that Australia announced, from June 2011, new multi-year funding of $200 million over 2011 to 2013. I think this shows that, as per that aid review, there is absolutely no doubt that this is a program that ought to be supported strongly and that this is an alliance that we should all be very proud to be part of. I would say this to members who are out there in the community when people ask: 'Do we really get value for money when it comes to aid dollars? Are we really helping the people who really need it? Are we in a situation where all the money is going on administration?' The fact is that there are programs like this that show that there is excellent work being done, and that excellent work is work that we should all be supporting.

The international circumstances around this particular area have been congratulated by many throughout the world. Just to give you a few quotes, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said on 15 November 2011:

These funds … can deliver a promise of a future free from the threat of cervical cancer to millions of young women thanks to the HPV vaccine. This is critical to the Every Woman Every Child campaign.

The Hon. El Hadji Malick Diop, an MP from Senegal, said:

Pneumonia is a leading cause of death among children under five years in Senegal. Thanks to the support provided by the GAVI Alliance and its donors, my country will soon be able to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine and contribute to saving the lives of thousands of children. A big thank you for your support.

And Bill Gates, whom I mentioned earlier, said:

GAVI is a great investment because it really gets into the countries and gets these new vaccines out there. It is now that we are going to start to get the last two vaccines that rich kids take for granted—the pneumococcus and rotavirus—and over these next five years get them out to every child everywhere. That means, for the first time ever, that we have equity in vaccines.

That gives the children of the developing world the chance to be all that they can be.