House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Polio Eradication

12:40 pm

Photo of Dick AdamsDick Adams (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I congratulate the member for Fremantle, Ms Melissa Parke, for bringing this motion on polio before the House. Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal disease. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. Therefore the strategy of eradicating polio from the world is based on preventing infection by immunising every child until transmission of the disease stops and the world is polio free.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours. It can be spread by person-to-person contact, particularly between children and in situations of poor hygiene and sanitation. In 90 per cent of people who contract the disease there are no symptoms. Other signs of the disease can include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness of the neck and pain in limbs.

Around 40 per cent of people who survive paralysis polio may develop additional symptoms 15 to 40 years after the original illness. These symptoms, called post-polio syndrome, include new progressive muscle weakness, severe fatigue and pain in muscles and joints. This was only diagnosed in the last century through the concerns of survivors and family members who did not understand what was going on with them or their relatives. I remember some people who had polio as children, and I have also got to know the Post-Polio Network in Tasmania—I have the honour of being their patron—through representations they have made to me on the issue. It is a horrible disease, and eliminating it from the world is a necessary goal. Understanding the fear and concern of those with post-polio syndrome and being able to have it correctly diagnosed and treated is also vital for our community. That, too, needs to be recognised.

Though there is a worldwide campaign to eradicate polio, there is still more to be done. Polio still turns up from time to time and the main areas of the world affected are Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa and West Africa. Nationals from some of these areas are coming to Australia and they have the potential to bring the disease with them. We are definitely not immune. We must ensure our children are immunised and continue to remain immune. I applaud the activities of those who keep bringing this issue to our attention—people like Bill Gates, who came to Australia recently to remind us of our obligation to keep funding efforts to eradicate the disease. I know we have been providing funds but to ensure that the campaign goes on, to ensure this disease remains in the past, we have to be vigilant and continue research.

Eradication can be complicated by the politics of a country too. In Pakistan and Nigeria 20 vaccinators have been killed undertaking the task. It makes you think, when those who are trying to do away with a disease are killed, that some people's minds must be very warped if they base their politics on those sorts of activities. In some places, the major obstacles to the campaign are insecurity due to armed insurgency and misinformation about the vaccination leading parents to refuse to have their children vaccinated—and so ignorance plays a role in children getting this disease. But even some of the world's most despised regimes are now recognising that they have to fall in with the need to prevent the disease from taking hold. I welcome that news.

We must ensure that immunisation education is continued, not only in this country but wherever we contribute our aid dollar. Hopefully, we will be able to declare sooner rather than later that polio is no longer present in our world. I congratulate the member for Fremantle for bringing this motion before the House.


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