House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Polio Eradication

12:22 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to rise to support this motion, which was brought into the House back in September last year by the member for Fremantle. I would like to put on record her commitment to this issue and all other issues that relate to global health, global human rights and making this world a better place.

It is appropriate that we should be revisiting this motion at this particular time, because last week the government made a commitment to increase funding to help eradicate polio. As we all know, polio is a very debilitating disease. It is currently endemic in only three countries in the world: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. It is very pleasing that it has been limited to those three countries, but unless we fully fund programs, the eradication of polio will not come to fruition.

In 2012, historic progress was made in eradicating polio. The year ended with the lowest number of new polio cases in the fewest places ever. There were fewer than 250 cases reported, compared with 650 cases in 2011 and about 350,000 cases in 1985. In 1988, when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched, polio was endemic in 125 countries and paralysed about 1,000 children per day. So to go from 125 countries being affected in 1988 to three countries in 2012 is an enormous gain. Since that time, the incidence of polio has decreased by 99 per cent through immunisation efforts that have reached about 2.5 billion children and saved more than 10 billion children from paralysis. We have new tools now to eradicate the polio virus. This is something that we as a nation are promoting, leading to it being embraced in other countries. Most countries have eradicated polio through routine vaccination of children with three doses of oral vaccine. This effectively builds up immunity to all three strains of the virus.

It has been two years since the most recent case of polio was detected in India. Health workers have had success vaccinating children in that country, but neighbouring nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan are struggling to deal with the virus, presenting the possibility of the virus being transported back into India. So it is really important that polio is eradicated in both Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to maintain the situation in India. Polio is resurgent. In Somalia, the first polio case reported since 2007 was the result of several years during which al-Shabaab militants forbade children's vaccinations in zones it controlled. Experts say if we choose to control polio rather than eradicate it, more than 10 million children under the age of five could be paralysed by the disease in the next 40 years. That raises a number of concerns about polio. However, I am going to concentrate on Pakistan.

I visited Pakistan last year and whilst I was there I heard of incidents with health workers. In particular, one doctor was beheaded during his time going out to communities and administering polio vaccinations. Pakistan has active and widespread transmission of polio, particularly in the tribal areas. It has persistent polio transmission which is highly localised in sub-districts. There is a strategic approach to this in Pakistan, but unfortunately politics interfere with the implementation of that plan. Only last week, on 29 May, Pakistani authorities suspended a four-day polio vaccination program after gunmen shot a female polio worker and wounded another official. This has been a blow to the UN campaign to eradicate this crippling disease. The attacks have made it harder for Pakistan to join the majority of other nations and declare Pakistan polio-free. The four-day campaign was launched on Tuesday morning but halted for security reasons and to express solidarity with the slain and injured female polio workers. As yet, no group has claimed responsibility for this attack. In the past it has been alleged that polio workers are US spies. We heard this when the delegation travelled to Pakistan last year. There is even talk that the vaccine makes people sterile—so there is a campaign of misinformation within Pakistan. It is very important that we not only provide the vaccinations but also engage in an education program. That is very difficult in countries like Pakistan. In December, nine polio workers were killed in Pakistan by a gunman. The UN said in March that some 240,000 children have missed vaccinations since July last year in parts of Pakistan's tribal regions. Mr Deputy Speaker, that really is not good enough. It is important that Pakistan joins together with other nations, as should Afghanistan and Nigeria.

I am really pleased that last week the Prime Minister and the foreign minister announced the funding to eradicate polio. This is, as we have already established, a very debilitating disease which strikes and affects the most vulnerable people in countries throughout the world—those three countries that I have highlighted, especially children.

Australia will now provide $80 million over the next four years from 2015 to 2018 to help finish the job and achieve worldwide polio eradication. This follows the $500 million commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative from 2011 to 2014 announced by the Prime Minister at the heads of government in 2011. This fits in very nicely with the motion from the member for Fremantle where she called for polio programs to be fully funded. Once again, she is focusing on the important issues.

Bill Gates was here in this parliament last week—and I note that the Prime Minister and the foreign minister have applauded the wonderful leadership he has shown in this area. The Gates Foundation has contributed $1.8 billion for the polio endgame strategy plan—that is a phenomenal commitment. It was Australia's Sir Clem Renouf who, as president of Rotary International in 1978 and 1979, led the international campaign to vaccinate every child against polio. As a result of that, the global community came together in 1988 to launch the global polio eradication campaign.

I congratulate both the Prime Minister and the foreign minister for the recent announcement. I would also like to express my appreciation to Bill Gates and of course the member for Fremantle for bringing this motion to the House.


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