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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4939

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (13:00): It was interesting to hear the member for Moreton talk about some of the symptoms of polio. For a lot of people born in the last 40 years in Australia and in many other countries around the world, their experience of this dreadful disease would be negligible, if non-existent. It was a very prevalent disease all around the world, and still remains so in a very small number of countries. In fact, from 1912 to 1972 in Australia there were over 30,000 cases of the worst form of paralytic poliomyelitis. A large number of polio survivors in Australia still live with the pain and debilitation of that post-polio syndrome. A number have spoken to me lately about their increasing difficulty as they age. So the previous speaker is quite right in that we do have a lot of work to do to recognise the circumstances of polio survivors in our own country.

I want to acknowledge the work of Rotary in particular. Rotary International, the office of Australia, is in my electorate—it is in Philip Street. They have been very assertive, shall I say, in their calls for Australia to continue to fund the eradication of polio and they have been very successful at it. I am pleased that last week the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, announced further funding to help eradicate polio. They announced funding of $80 million over four years from 2015 to 2018 to help finish the job. That comes on top of a $50 million contribution to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative from 2011 to 2014, which was announced by the Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in 2011. So there is no doubt that Australia is doing its part now, but we also played quite a part in the early years of the Eradicate Polio initiative. At some point in the 70s, someone in Rotary thought, 'I've got an idea: we'll eradicate polio'—just like that. They managed to convince Rotary clubs all around the world that this was not only doable but it had to be done. It was Australia's Sir Clem Renouf, who was President of Rotary International from 1978 to 1979, who led the international campaign to vaccinate every child against polio. It was as a result of those early efforts of Rotary that the global community came together in 1988 to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Like many people my age, I was vaccinated as a child in primary school, with one of those plastic spoons with that bright, nasty, sweet pink stuff on it. You never forget it. I am not sure whether I had it more than once, but you only have to have it once to remember it. It was sickly sweet and on a very small plastic spoon—the kind of plastic spoon you get with a tub of yogurt now. I remember they were quite unique at the time; they were just the polio spoons, as we remember them. It was an extraordinary campaign in Australia to vaccinate Australian children. Since that initiative came together in 1988, there has been remarkable success around the world and there has been a reduction in the number of polio cases to 99.9 per cent, which is an extraordinary achievement by a lot of people all around the world who put their effort and sometimes their life work into eradicating what is a dreadful disease.

As early as 1994 there were 36 countries in the region of America that were declare polio-free. In 2000 the Western Pacific region of 37 countries was declares free from the virus, and the European region of 51 countries received polio-free status as late as June 2002. By 2009, just a few years ago, there had been more than 361 million children immunised against the disease, just as I was nearly five decades ago. So, it has taken a while but it is an extraordinary achievement. By 2010, the year before we announced the first 50 million for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there were only four countries in the world that remained polio endemic. They were, of course, India, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Then in 2012, just last year, India was certified polio-free. There are still three countries, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, where polio is found, so we still have some work to do. Even if we eradicate polio in those countries, we still have to stay on guard because it does appear from time to time such as in Chad and now in Sudan. We still have work to do.

I congratulate all of the people around the world who have worked so hard to do such an extraordinary job. There is more work to do, but great work has been done so far.