House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Polio Eradication

1:11 pm

Photo of Geoff LyonsGeoff Lyons (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on this occasion to add my support to the motion moved by the member for Fremantle to commend the government on its four-year commitment to provide $50 million to support the global eradication of polio. This brings Australia's financial commitment to the eradication of the disease to over $130 million, including a recent announcement of $80 million from 2015 to 2018. The measures are aimed towards stopping the transmission of the disease by the end of next year and seeing the world certified polio free at the World Health Assembly in five years time.

Australia has been a leader in the fight to eradicate polio on a global level since the late 1970s, when Sir Clem Renouf, in his role as President of Rotary International, led a campaign to vaccinate every child against this disease. This led to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which was launched in 1988 and has seen a reduction in polio cases by 99.9 per cent. Today, the polio endemic remains only in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Of course, the fight against this disease has not been an easy one. From 1912 to 1972, 30,000 cases in Australia were reported and many polio survivors today still live with the pain and debilitation of post-polio syndrome. In 1937 in my electorate of Bass, a polio epidemic swept through Launceston. Over 1,000 people, mostly children, contracted polio. This epidemic was one of the worst per-capita global outbreaks and within a year Tasmania had the second highest number of polio cases per capita in the world. The Launceston General Hospital took a leading role in the treatment of polio in northern Tasmania following the outbreak in 1937, where sufferers where treated at the infectious diseases unit. The number of masseuses and physiotherapists at the Launceston General Hospital was increased from one of each to ten of each to cope with the demand for their services in the treatment of polio. So great was the need for accommodation that a special grant of £4,000 was obtained to build a new wing at the Launceston General Hospital. It was completed in just 35 days by two shifts of workmen. The first obstetric delivery of a baby to a mother in an iron lung was carried out at the Launceston General Hospital at this time. A local doctor, Dr WK McIntyre, was responsible for the invention of an 'infant iron lung' for use by premature babies with polio.

Also in response to this polio outbreak, the Reverend RW Dobbinson, a Baptist minister, established the St Giles home in Launceston. Named after the patron saint of children with disabilities, St Giles operated as an institution to provide support for children affected by polio. Today, St Giles is still providing support, respite, and adult health services for 6,000 young Tasmanians with disabilities from its campuses in Hobart and Launceston via its e-health network.

Many children affected by polio sought support from St Giles. A close friend of mine and a great contributor to Northern Tasmanian business was one of these children. He kindly shared some of his experiences with me. After contracting polio in 1941 as an infant, his childhood changed dramatically. He spent almost an entire year in an iron lung. Later he would wear callipers on his arms and legs and a brace on his back, although he often felt self-conscious about this, especially at not being able to join his school friends on the footy or cricket ground. As a nine-year-old he spent 12 months living in Queensland with an uncle who he credits with treating him as an equal for the first time and teaching him to be self-sufficient and to do everyday tasks like tying his shoelaces despite some limited mobility as a result of the impact of the polio virus.

As a survivor of polio he is adamant that the goal of global eradication is of the utmost importance and Australia should do all it can to assist in achieving this. I quote Keith, who said:

I cannot believe that in a modern world children are not vaccinated against this virus when a vaccine is so readily available, especially as there is no cure once contracted. It is absolutely preventable and we should do all we can.

I certainly echo these sentiments. Again, I offer my congratulations to the Gillard Labor government for its commitment to supporting the global eradication of polio.


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