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Polio eradication dinner, Rotary International, Hawthorn, Victoria.

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Senator the Hon Kay Patterson Minister for Health and Ageing

Polio Eradication Dinner

Rotary International Hawthorn, Victoria 26 November 2002

This text was endorsed by the Minister for use in speaking at this event. Please check against actual delivery. Thank you, Tony - distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be in the company of people dedicated to the noble cause of eradicating polio from this planet.

As many of you will know, polio is one of the most invidious diseases in history.

It is highly infectious and spreads easily through entire communities, mainly affecting children; ● It can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours, by invading the nervous system. ● 1 in every 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis and 5 to 10 % will then die. ● There is no cure for polio. ●

Australia suffered large outbreaks of polio in the 1930s and 1950s - before a vaccine had been invented.

The fear and panic that polio caused to Australian families is well known, but nevertheless awful.

The old images of rows of patients in iron lungs stand as a stark reminder of this terrible virus.

Tonight we gather in anticipation of a truly momentous achievement, which is the eradication of a virus from the face of the earth by human intervention. Smallpox was the first virus we eradicated giving hope that we could do the same with polio.

Polio is one of only a limited number of diseases that can be eradicated because:

It only affects humans and there is no animal reservoir for the virus; ● An effective and inexpensive vaccine exists; ● Immunity is life-long, and ● the polio virus can only survive for a short time in the environment. ●

This does not mean that eradicating polio is in any sense easy.

I commend Rotary International wholeheartedly for deciding in 1985 to support the goal of immunising the world's children against polio by Rotary's 100th anniversary in 2005.

I understand Rotary International is the largest private sector contributor to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative Initiative, with your PolioPlus Program providing 407 million US dollars to the protection of more than 2 billion children in 122 countries.

I know these funds have provided much-needed vaccine, operational support, medical teams, laboratory equipment and educational materials for health workers and parents in the developing countries.

In 2001, 575 million children received 2 billion doses of oral polio vaccine in 94 countries, administered by about 10 million health care workers across the world.

These activities have reduced the number of poliomyelitis endemic countries by two-thirds, with a 92 per cent decline in reported poliomyelitis cases. It is heartening that there were only 51 reported polio cases in the world for this year to the end of April.

The number of countries in which the disease is widespread has declined from 125 to just 10.

This work has led to three WHO global regions now being certified polio-free:

the Americas in 1994; ● the Western Pacific Region, which includes Australia, in 2000; and ● most recently the European region in 2002. ●

These are landmark achievements.

The Australian Government has taken great pride in supporting Rotary by agreeing to match private sector contributions, up to a maximum of $10 million for the period 2001 to 2005.

Last year, the Bill Gates Foundation also agreed to match funds raised by Rotary, including the Australian Government contribution, and the World Bank has declared it will provide $3 for every dollar raised.

This effectively multiplies every dollar raised by Rotary to 10 dollars. We are also determined to eliminate polio in our region.

The only known sources of wild poliovirus remaining in Australia are within laboratories.

My Department is taking a lead role in the Region by implementing a laboratory containment campaign that has identified and produced an inventory of all wild poliovirus stock that are stored in Australian laboratories.

This will ensure that these samples are appropriately contained or destroyed once global eradication is announced.

To ensure Australia remains polio-free:

We are maintaining immunisation coverage, so that currently 94.7 % of infants aged 2 years having completed 3 doses of oral polio vaccine; and ●

We have a system of enhanced surveillance for acute flaccid paralysis that assists in polio alerts. ●

I am delighted that it is now almost 30 years since the last local polio case in Australia, and more than 5 years since the last reported local case in the WHO Western Pacific Region.

We will make every effort to ensure it stays that way.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is recognised worldwide as a model of public and private cooperation in pursuit of a wonderful humanitarian goal. I would like to congratulate everyone who has been - and continues to be - a part of it.

Along with everyone here, I await the day when the World Health Organisation assembly is addressed with the proclamation that polio has been eradicated from the planet.

This will truly be a day for rejoicing, and we will all be indebted to the wonderful contribution Rotary International has made to this extraordinary objective.


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