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.

12:32 pm

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this very important motion by the member for Fremantle and I thank her and indeed the member for Shortland for their ongoing support in the global fight to eradicate polio.

Just last week the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reported a confirmed case of wild poliovirus type 1 in a refugee camp in the Dadaab area in Kenya—the first of its kind since July 2011 which highlights why we continue to discuss this topic and why Australia must continue to do what it can to support the global eradication of polio.

The history of the global effort to eradicate polio is a success story of what countries can achieve when they work together. Until a vaccine was successfully developed in the 1950s, the poliomyelitis virus was an endemic disease for every country in the world. In 1952, 58,000 cases of polio were reported in the United States alone. While between 1930 and 1988, it is estimated that a minimum of 20,000 to 40,000 Australians developed paralytic polio, although exact figures are still unknown.

In many developed countries, the polio vaccine was successfully implemented as a routine immunisation effort to eradicate the disease and, soon after, the number of polio cases in the developed world dropped from hundreds of thousands every year to just a handful. The last reported case of polio in Australia was in 1978.

As this motion notes, eradication strategies have proven to be very effective when they are fully implemented, which is what occurred in developed countries. In fact many of the medical initiatives that we take for granted in the developed world today were implemented out of necessity for fighting the seriousness of polio epidemics.

Intensive care units had their origins in fighting polio. Before the 1950s, hospitals had little capacity for respiratory assistance for patients, and the first respiratory centre opened to treat severe cases of polio leading to the first intensive care unit opening in Copenhagen in 1953.

Additionally, polio endemic countries have been reduced from 125 to just three. As the motion notes, in February 2012, India was removed from the list of countries where polio remains endemic and where there has not been a single reported case since January 2011.

This global effort has meant that the incidence of polio has been reduced by 99 per cent since 1988. It is now a disease of which young people in developed nations are almost unaware. These changes would not have happened if Rotary International and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative had not taken up the cause. They have worked relentlessly for the past 25 years to fight polio and as the figures previously mentioned indicate, they are getting very close to achieving their goal.

Rotary International's 1.2 million volunteers first took up the charge in 1985, spearheading the immunisation effort against polio before it became a coordinated campaign in 1988. They understood that this global disease would need a global effort if it were to be defeated. With over 33,000 clubs spread across 200 countries, Rotarians are well placed to engage with local governments and communities to ensure that polio eradication is at the top of everyone's agenda. Financially, Rotary itself has contributed well over $900 million to the polio-eradication effort, with its members volunteering their own time and resources to reach over two billion children with the oral polio vaccine.

Rotary's dedication to this cause has been unwavering, as has the dedication from Bill and Melinda Gates through their foundation. Last week Bill Gates visited Australia to reaffirm his commitment to polio eradication and to commend Australia on its contribution to this effort. In a column published in Australian newspapers on 28 May, he said:

Because Australia is increasingly seen as a leader in development, your investments serve as an example and an inspiration to other donors.

And he said:

Now, with polio cases at the lowest levels in history (the slope of that curve has been steep and downward, from 350,000 in 1988 to 223 last year), the organisation in charge of eradication activities has released a plan to get rid of the disease by 2018.

I am looking forward to Australia's continued leadership on this issue, which is my personal priority.

Eradicating polio is important for so many reasons. It proves we have the tools, like vaccines, to save lives. It proves that countries around the world have the systems and will to deliver these tools. And it proves that the world can come together to do something extraordinary.

Australia has been an important part not only of the polio story, but also of the larger development success story. These are achievements for which you deserve to feel proud.

He commended Australia for leading the fight when we hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2011 and for pledging more than $50 million for polio eradication. However, more can and must be done, as Mr Gates said, to restore polio to priority status on the global agenda.

Although we can now cross India off the list where polio is endemic, three remain: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. As I mentioned, there has been a confirmed case of wild polio virus in Kenya and in April one further case was confirmed in Somalia. These cases, however isolated, reinforce vigilance is required when dealing with polio.

As Rotary International put it so well: 'As long as polio threatens even one child, anywhere in the world, all children, wherever they live, remain at risk.' If just one child remains at risk then polio can very quickly make a comeback. Estimates show that global polio reinfection over time could result in as many as 200,000 per year being paralysed. It is also true that as we approach the final one per cent of cases of polio, which we hope to prevent, the marginal returns on our investment diminish. These final cases are difficult and expensive to prevent because of challenges, including geographic isolation, armed conflict and cultural barriers. I am all too well aware of how these challenges continue to affect war-torn Afghanistan. It is therefore lamentable that immunisation campaigns in 33 countries of Africa and Asia were cancelled or scaled back because there is a shortfall of some US$945 billion in the global polio-eradication initiative's implementation of the 2012-13 emergency action plan.

More recently, I welcomed the decision of the Australian government to provide $80 million over four years from 2015 to 2018. This contribution pales into insignificance when considering the US$1.8 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the 2013-18 Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan. That plan arose from a directive by the World Health Assembly and involves the Global Polio Eradication Initiative consulting with all relevant national health authorities, global health initiatives, scientific experts, donors and other stakeholders to finally eradicate and contain all cases of polio virus, 'such that no child ever again suffers paralytic poliomyelitis.'

I take this opportunity to again voice my concern about the government's decision to defer its promise to increase the foreign aid budget, instead raiding it of some $375 million. On the one hand the government announces an expansion to support polio eradication—not until 2015—and on the other hand it breaks its commitment to our nearest neighbours, who face challenges of equal measure including corruption, violence against women and other serious infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus.

Australia has been a leading light in the fight to eradicate polio from the world. The end is in sight. But more can be done, and more must be done. I strongly support this private member's motion to further the aim of global 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.

12:45 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I support the motion on polio eradication put before the chamber by the member for Fremantle. Polio has been one of the scourges of the human race. To think that we are very close to eliminating this disease from the planet is a remarkable thing. But, as this motion indicates, there is more to do.

As a patron of Polio Australia, I take a special interest in this and I acknowledge the words of the member for Lyons about post-polio syndrome. Until quite recently, this was largely unrecognised as a problem, but there are several hundred thousand sufferers. These are people who had a slight touch of polio—maybe not the full paralysis—as children and who are facing difficulties late in life as a result. Members of the Post-Polio Network will be in the House in the next couple of weeks. I acknowledge the work they do under John Tierney to keep that issue alive.

I also acknowledge the work of Rotary. Rotary International have, I think, contributed close to a billion dollars over the last 15 or 16 years. The members of Rotary are in clubs in towns and cities all over the world and they have done a magnificent job. But we still have some way to go.

Before I go any further, I note that I find it a great irony that in Australia we now have people who are refusing to vaccinate their children—when we know what this disease can do. I believe I was one of the first intake of children vaccinated. I still very clearly remember lining up in the mid-sixties at Warialda primary school to have the pink vaccine placed on my tongue. Some of my older schoolmates—some of the kids in the high school—were already then showing visible signs of paralysis from polio. That is how close my generation came to this great scourge.

I will finish by speaking about the Young Australian of the Year, Akram Azimi. Akram was in Parliament House a few months ago and I had the privilege to meet him. He is very passionate about the eradication of polio, because he believes the vaccination program—instigated by Rotary—delivered to him as a small child in Afghanistan saved his life. His family were forced to flee Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. As a small preschooler, he—with his family—escaped to Pakistan. In Pakistan he saw children begging in the streets who were badly paralysed from the effects of polio. When he asked his mother what was wrong with them, she told him it was polio. 'How come I won't get it too?' he asked. She told him that it was because he had been protected, protected by the vaccine provided by Rotary.

Akram Azimi is coming to my electorate in a couple of weeks time. Over a couple of days, we will be speaking to schools and to the Rotary clubs. He is in fact a Paul Harris fellow of Rotary—a great tribute from Rotary for someone who is, I think, only 25 years of age.

I think that this is something that we cannot give up on. We are so close. I believe that India is about to be named as being polio free, but we do have some hot spots on the world. I acknowledge the contribution the government made recently, and I believe that, as a developed country, we should continue that support for the eradication of polio throughout the globe.

We are privileged to live in the country we live in. So often we take good health for granted. In this day and age there are children being born and growing up under threat of this terrible debilitating disease of polio—even possible death—when prevention is so easy. It is a shame, and we should be doing more about it.

12:51 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. We will not mention the football on the weekend, obviously! I rise to speak about something very serious, which is the member for Fremantle's motion to eradicate polio. Last week in Parliament House we were joined by dozens of polio survivors and their friends and families. It was a revelation to learn how far the polio family tree can reach amongst our families and the community.

Polio is transmitted by contaminated water and food supplies, enters through a child's mouth and then multiplies in the throat and intestines. In a matter of hours, the polio virus can enter the brain and spinal cord, destroying the cells that enable muscles to contract, and causing paralysis. Sadly, in five to 10 per cent of cases, the child dies.

More than 10 million children will be paralysed in the next 40 years if the world fails to capitalize on its US$9 billion global investment in eradication. Bill Gates came and spoke here in Australia last week with our nation's leaders about the work that his foundation is doing to rid the world of polio. He said that we are down to just three countries and 300 cases, and he gives himself a good chance of eradicating the disease.

Last year I went to Pakistan with a delegation and saw the great work being done. It would be nice to achieve that goal. During Mr Gates's visit to Australia, Prime Minister Gillard announced an $80 million boost to the polio fight. And that will be combined with the US$1.8 billion put in by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate polio.

For 25 years, on a more local basis, Rotary International has been fighting to eradicate the tenacious disease, polio. Rotary International has 1.2 million members worldwide in more than 200 countries. I would particularly like to acknowledge some of the local Rotary members in my electorate of Moreton. Now, with the great work around the world—by immunising more than two billion children—we have reduced the number of polio cases by 99 per cent. In fact on Friday I went to the Spinal Injuries Association for a catch-up and I met with David Riley the president, who is also a Sunnybank resident, and Bruce Milligan the CEO. They told me—it was something that I had not realised—that there is something called post-polio syndrome. The Spinal Injuries Association often deals with people who had polio when they were children. They are now ageing and are covered by the Spinal Injuries Association because some of the symptoms of the late effects of polio include muscle and joint pain and the like, and the Spinal Injuries Association provides support to them.

I want to go back to the work of some of the Rotary clubs in my electorate and their inspiring fundraising efforts such as the efforts of the amazing team at Rocks Riverside Rotary Club in Oxley—Brad Butcher, the president; Frank Sauter, the treasurer; Lucinda Coalter, the secretary; and Chris Antoniess, the fundraising organiser. They donated iPads to the aged care ward at Canossa Hospital, they donated money to the Brisbane Basket Brigade, but they also raised money for the polio campaign. So they have been working locally to raise funds locally but then helping the rest of the world. I know that Rocks Riverside Rotary Club are looking for new members, so I am putting that out there for people who are interested in supporting a great community group.

I also want to acknowledge the Rotary Club of Salisbury. I attended their 50-year anniversary dinner earlier this year, in January. They do local work but have also raised money to give to the international polio campaign. The Rotary Club of Sunnybank Hills also had a fundraising dinner to raise money for the global fight towards eradicating polio.

I will not name all the people in the Rotary Club of Archerfield because I know there are significant players from Liberal and National parties there. I was at a function with them yesterday. On election day we stand on opposite sides of the ballot box but on the other 364 days of the year they are out there working for their community both at the international level—I know that the Dean brothers, who have a connection with Pakistan have sent money back to eradicate polio.

I would also like to mention the Walter Taylor Bridge branch of Rotary, which is only just one-year-old but is trying to recruit people. I saw them at the Sherwood State School fete the other day. They had a stall there, reaching out to people who can then show the great community spirit involved, be involved on a local level and also commit to eradicating polio on a larger scale.

The good news is that polio is completely preventable since the virus cannot live long outside the human body. Immunisation can prevent this disease spreading and can eradicate it. As Bill Gates said, we will be able to eradicate it and that would be a good thing to do on our watch. Polio still threatens children around the world so every community group should be making an effort to raise funds.

12:56 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage) Share this | | Hansard source

It was a pleasure to visit your own electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker McClelland, last Friday in the company of Nick Varvaris, the Liberal candidate and the Mayor of Kogarah. I believe, if given a chance, he would make an excellent and worthy successor to you.

This particular motion concerns the issue of polio both globally and within Australia. In Australia I have been very close to the polio community. The driving force behind that was Fran Henke, a former journalist who lives in my electorate. She lives in Hastings. She was a polio sufferer as a child with significant lifelong challenges as a consequence. It was Fran who introduced me to the world of post-polio sufferers and the fact that there are an estimated 400,000 polio survivors in Australia and millions around the world. They have not just the direct legacy of polio but of post-polio onset. That is in itself a condition in need of recognition. There has been some worthy work from governments of both persuasions. However, there remains a gap in health system in terms of specific and direct recognition of post-polio syndrome. It is something to which I have committed on a bipartisan basis with people from both sides of the House.

There is a strong and consistent push for bipartisanship, which the member for Moreton referred to previously. I think that is a fundamental approach with post-polio syndrome. There are 400,000 polio survivors or those who have post-polio syndrome in Australia. In particular, the post-polio syndrome side needs greater recognition. It is my belief that we need to have a full and independent inquiry into the scope and extent of the syndrome as well as the needs of sufferers of post-polio syndrome, and the steps we can and should take going forward as parliament, not as a government of one persuasion or another, but as a parliament to deal with these issues. That includes how we deal with post-polio syndrome within the National Disability Insurance Scheme framework—noting that the vast majority of sufferers would already be or will soon be over 65 years of age.

We may recognise their condition but they may still fall through the gaps. That means we need to have a specific action plan for post-polio sufferers. People such as John Tierney, Mary-ann Liethof and others involved should be commended for their work, but our commitment is to practical action to assist them going forward.

My specific contribution is to call for and propose the inquiry into post-polio syndrome, its extent, its impact and the steps forward which we can take if not in this parliament then in the next parliament.

On a broader basis around the world, whilst we have made extraordinary steps in eradicating the unbelievably damaging and cruel condition and illness that is polio, there is more work to be done. There is more work in dealing with the sufferers who have had to, in many cases, deal with lifelong disability and extreme pain. They have had to do so where there is little support in parts of the world of extreme poverty or low socioeconomic circumstances. In that respect, I commend wholeheartedly the works of groups such as Rotary, which have made one of their global commitments to address the eradication of poverty. I also want to acknowledge the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This is rightly working towards the total global eradication of polio. There is more to be done on that front, although it remains extant in only three countries, to the best of my knowledge. It can easily bubble up, so we have to work towards complete eradication and then the period of three years where there is no further notification. The Australian government rightly has a role to play. If you think of things where our foreign aid is most effectively used, eradication of fundamental diseases must surely be right at the top.

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

1:06 pm

Photo of Paul NevillePaul Neville (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I compliment the member for Fremantle for the original genesis of this motion, and the members for Ryan and Shortland who have led the debate today. Let me say that anyone whose life has been touched by polio will never forget it. That occurred in my family when I was a young child when my sister got polio. Fortunately it was a reasonably mild attack and she was nursed at home. I still remember the boiling of the kitchen utensils, plates and things, which was a sterilisation method that had to be used if you nursed people at home.

I can remember our family doctor coming around one night and he was very distressed. My mother offered him a cup of tea and asked, 'What is wrong?' He said, 'After I leave here I'm going back to the hospital. I've got two children to save tonight, but only one iron lung left.' The iron lung, of course, was the way to enable children or people, who were paralysed from polio, to breathe. Of course, if you did not have an iron lung, you were in trouble, and most hospitals had a bank of these iron lungs. That is an example of how back it was in Warwick when I was a kid.

When I was at boarding school, our class—grade 9 as we call it today—was put into isolation because we had a couple of cases of polio in our class. The whole school was given injections of gamma globulin. It was not so much a vaccination but was more a preventative that gave you a chance to beat polio if it was around. I have very vivid memories of it. I can remember one of my teachers who had transferred from Victoria. It was so bad in Victoria at the height of the polio epidemic that the kids, in what you would call a 'dark joke', used to call the ambulances that came to pick the kids up 'the meat wagon'. It was a really bad time in Australia's history and we are blessed to be rid of the disease.

I would like to compliment Rotary. I have been a Rotarian for many years, and I am an honorary one at present. The Rotary PolioPlus initiative has been a marvellous program. They have taken on about 14 per cent of the world effort in eradicating polio. Most of the funding, of course, has come from governments through the United Nations' programs, but Rotary have provided 66 per cent of the private funding for polio eradication.

I well remember in this very building a former world president of Rotary—a Queenslander, in fact—a fellow called Glen Kinross. He came to the parliament and called all members of parliament who were Rotarians together and asked them assist him to get some more funding because, at that stage, he was trying to eliminate polio from the Pacific. John Howard came to the lunch and, if not totally successful, we were certainly partially successful in gaining that funding. Rotary must use this money for transportation, vaccine delivery, social mobilisation and the training of health workers. It has been a labour of love for 25 years and will, if all our efforts succeed, come to a total cost to those clubs of $1.2 billion.

It is a marvellous initiative. We worry about plants and animals, the flora and fauna, being diseased in this country, but we are sometimes very sanguine about the human condition. This is not something that we can be sanguine about. The fact that Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan are still gravely at risk means that we must act. Of course, if we do not act, we know the figures—we know that we will be looking at 200,000 cases of polio a year, and that is something we cannot contemplate.

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.

1:16 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the member for Fremantle and other speakers on this important motion about the eradication of polio. Polio is a disabling and potentially fatal disease. Whilst there is currently no cure for the disease there are safe and effective vaccinations to ensure its eradication.

Polio is a highly-infectious disease which invades the nervous system and acts quickly, so quickly it can cause irreversible paralysis within a matter of hours. In 1988 the global eradication of polio effort began, led by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and Rotary International. At this time the wild polio virus was endemic in 125 countries and about 350,000 people, mainly young children, were paralysed by polio annually. Today, thanks to immunisation efforts, the number of polio cases throughout the world has decreased by more than 99 per cent, in turn saving more than 10 million children from paralysis.

PolioPlus is the volunteer arm of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. It is the most ambitious program in Rotary's history. Rotary has been a leader for more than 25 years in the global effort in the private sector to rid the world of polio and has contributed more than US$1 billion. I am proud to say that the Rotary clubs in the Riverina, and there are many of them, continue to do all they can by way of fundraising in an effort to rid the world of this dreadful scourge.

The global eradication initiative focuses on four key initiatives to stop the transmission of the polio virus. Routine immunisation ensures four doses of the oral polio vaccine are administered in the first year of life, a critical way to ensure polio-free countries continue to protect children from the threat of imported polio. National immunisation days are held, and have been for decades, where Rotarians provide funds through the PolioPlus program for millions of drops of vaccine, promoting the campaign in communities, distributing the vaccine to health centres as well as serving as monitors and working with local officials to reach every child. Furthermore, Rotarians work alongside health professionals and others to find, report and investigate cases of acute flaccid paralysis ideally within 48 hours of onset.

PolioPlus helps fund containers which preserve the integrity of stool samples during their delivery to laboratories. The program has also helped to provide equipment for global polio virus laboratories. The final strategy is targeted mop-up campaigns, which are similar to National Immunisation Day volunteering but on a smaller scale, often going house to house.

Australia was declared polio free in 2000 and that was widely attributed to high rates of immunisation. I appreciate there is a vaccination debate going on at present but certainly the benefits far outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, there are still three polio-endemic countries in the world: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In 2012 the total number of wild virus cases reported was 223 with Nigeria reporting 122, Pakistan 58, Afghanistan 37, Chad five and Niger one. Several other countries also saw outbreaks of vaccine-driven polio which took the total number of cases to 291. This is the smallest number on record and is further proof that the eradication initiative is working.

Last year, I was able to meet Isabel Thompson, a constituent of mine from Wagga Wagga, to discuss funding needs for those living with polio. Mrs Thompson gave me an insight into the challenges she faces daily and the importance of ensuring assistance is available to help those living with polio.

The success rate of eradicating polio around the world is to be highly commended. In addition to eradicating polio from so many countries around the world, the type 2 virus was actually eradicated in 1999, leaving only two wild polio viruses still in existence.

Thankfully, the Taliban has ended its war on polio vaccination workers. Its leadership admitted on 13 May that immunisation is the only way to protect children from the disease. This declaration came just weeks after the Afghan government launched a new campaign to immunise more than eight million children between six-months-old and five-years-old throughout the country. It said it had trained 46,000 volunteers to conduct the campaign, funded by the American aid agency USAID, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Efforts to eradicate the disease have been sabotaged in the past by the Taliban and other Islamic militants, who have assassinated immunisation workers in the three countries where polio remains a serious threat. Eleven polio workers were killed in Pakistan last year, including five women who were shot dead in Karachi in December. In Afghanistan, a 16-year-old girl involved in an antipolio vaccination campaign in Kapisa province was shot six times in the stomach outside her home last December and died later in hospital. That is absolutely tragic.

Thankfully the Taliban has now recognised the benefits of immunisation. Thankfully, Rotary is proceeding with what they need to do to help eradicate it. I commend the government in a bipartisan way for doing what they can too.

1:21 pm

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

I thank the honourable member and I commend all speakers for their contributions to the debate. The time allotted for this debate has now expired. Debate adjourned.

Sit ting suspended from 13:22 to 16 : 04