Monday, 22 February 2021
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) leads the world's efforts to end polio, bringing together Rotary International, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and many others including in the private sector with a common objective to eradicate polio once and for all;
(b) when GPEI commenced, more than 350,000 cases of polio paralysed and killed children in 125 countries annually;
(c) in 2020, polio was 99 per cent eradicated and wild polio remains in only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the entire African continent certified as polio-free on 25 August 2020;
(d) since the onset of COVID-19, the GPEI's extensive resources and infrastructure used to fight polio has been adapted to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread out of control in the developing world;
(e) the work of the Australian Polio Advocacy and Communications Team provides important support for eradication efforts by bringing together Australian advocates including Rotary International Australia, UNICEF Australia, Global Citizen and RESULTS Australia; and
(f) polio eradication efforts have slowed, and the progress made so far is now at risk; and
(2) acknowledges that:
(a) investment in completing polio eradication will benefit future generations of children who will be free of this devastating disease, and other health programs and initiatives will benefit from the knowledge and experience gained through polio eradication;
(b) efforts to eradicate polio have been extremely successful and demonstrate the effectiveness of widely available vaccination programs;
(c) the GPEI's COVID-19 response has been instrumental in ensuring that COVID-19 does not spread out of control in much of the developing world, including in the Pacific;
(d) Australia is a long-term champion of polio eradication along with many other Commonwealth nations including the United Kingdom and Canada; and
(e) the current parliaments of Australia and other countries have the opportunity to be recognised as the elected representatives who ensured that polio was completely eradicated.
I rise in this chamber to note the important work done to date in pursuit of eradicating polio worldwide—a noble goal indeed—and to acknowledge the contributions to this body of work by the Australian Polio Advocacy and Communications Team group and advocates right across Australia, including Rotary International Australia, UNICEF Australia, Global Citizen and Results Australia, as part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. First and foremost, I thank them for their contributions and commitment to further progressing this field of medicine. Their ongoing work is invaluable in the fight against polio.
As a paediatrician and doctor, I'm passionate about promoting preventive health measures. As the co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF group, I'm equally passionate about being a voice for all matters affecting children.
In 2019, I visited Papua New Guinea with Save the Children, as part of a parliamentary tour. Quite frankly, it was shocking to see some of the health events that are occurring in PNG—including outbreaks of polio.
There's so much more work to be done, and we need to work together in a collaborative manner to ensure that children have a good and healthy start to life. Immunisation programs, such as the polio program, are absolutely essential to that. As a young paediatrician, I visited Fairfield Hospital and saw people who had been in iron lungs for 40 years. This is a disease that has been deadly, but, more than that, it's also devastating. Importantly, polio is an easily preventable but life-changing and life-threatening virus causing severe disability. One in 200 polio infections lead to irreversible paralysis, with many more leading to lifelong disability and considerable pain. When I saw brave men and women in iron lungs, unable to move for so many decades, it was heart-rending. Among those paralysed, five to 10 per cent die when their breathing muscles become immobilised. Worse still, polio mainly affects young children under five years of age. For centuries, it was the scourge of young children until a polio vaccine became available.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a global effort to eradicate polio. When it commenced in 1988, more than 350,000 cases of polio paralysed and killed children in 125 countries annually. Now polio is 99 per cent eradicated and remains in only two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the entire African continent certified as polio free on 25 August 2020, last year. That is a massive achievement and is to do with the good work of the men and women who support these sorts of initiatives globally.
The reintroduction of increased polio infections in Pakistan and Afghanistan occurred due to low community immunisation rates. That's what happens when immunisation rates fall—so does herd community, and then everyone in the community is at risk. The government recognise the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching impacts on the polio vaccination program, but thankfully not here in Australia. We have very high and good immunisation rates, but, due to the pandemic, polio eradication efforts have slowed and the progress made so far is now at risk. With this in mind, we support the GPEI and its partners to re-establish momentum on polio immunisation in the remaining endemic countries.
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine provides an opportunity to accelerate and progress multiple health outcomes on a global scale. The widespread success of the polio program demonstrates the extreme effectiveness of a widely available vaccination program, and today is the first day that the COVID vaccine is being rolled out here in Australia. As Australians, on both sides of the parliament, we should all be very proud of this momentous day.
The polio program, to the credit of health organisations, has proven the benefits a million times over. I'm very proud our federal government has committed funding and support to the global eradication of polio. The Morrison government has pledged $69 million in funding to the GPEI to support eradication and manage the risk of polio. Respective polio champion and polio gender champion—the Minister for Health and the Minister for Women, Greg Hunt and Marise Payne—continue to support the GPEI both within Australia and internationally through a range of measures. We should congratulate the work that is being done by Australia to support this program.
I support the member for Higgins's motion on the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. We're co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF group and as such are very committed advocates of the GPEI. We are very, very lucky to live in a country where polio has been eradicated. But it's been a bit more than luck; it's been a lot of hard work by Australia and the international community.
Australia was declared polio free in 2000, and there have been no local transmissions of polio in Australia since 1972, before I was born. It is hard to believe for some of us who are a bit younger—there might be some who might remember; sorry, member for Bennelong, but I didn't mean to point you out!—that just 70 years ago polio was widespread across Australia and the globe and that now in 2021 it is 99 per cent eradicated. That's a remarkable achievement. There is still wild polio, though, in two countries, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The entire African continent was certified as polio free just last year, on 25 August 2020. That is an incredible achievement, and it speaks volumes to what can be achieved when the international community works constructively together. Much of it is thanks to the GPEI, which led the world's efforts to end polio, bringing together many stakeholders—the World Health Organization, UNICEF and others—who had a core objective to end polio once and for all.
In 1988, when the GPEI began, there were more than 350,000 cases of polio that had paralysed and killed children worldwide. I was old enough to remember that; it wasn't just others. We remember when it was a still a big problem globally. If it weren't for the efforts of the GPEI, we could have seen much larger numbers across the globe. While we have already consigned polio to history in Europe, the Americas, Africa and India, there is only one more push to finish the job, and that is in, as I mentioned, the two countries that still have wild poliovirus.
Of course, we all know that a new challenge exists—the one that we're facing right now: a new virus, COVID-19. As Mark Twain is said to have said, 'History does not repeat itself but it often rhymes.' Two epidemics, 104 years apart, see cities shut down, movie cinemas shut down, public schools closed, strictly enforced social distancing rules, and mothers keeping their children away from others. Some things remain the same, even after many generations. We can hope that what ended the polio epidemic will end this one: the development of a vaccine.
It's fitting that I'm speaking today about this, as our nation began the rollout of the COVID vaccine yesterday. In Victoria, we saw the first vaccine given to the head of infection control at Monash Health. It's a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19. We're on the offensive now in tackling this virus. We're no longer on the back foot, but we still have a long way to go, not only in Australia but across the globe. But, with these first vaccinations, I think we're all very hopeful. These vaccinations will allow us to be safe and to protect our families, friends, community and the nation. I hope to see Australia play a role in protecting our region by helping roll out vaccinations to our neighbours across the Pacific region. We must not forget that, even though we can't travel right now, we're still part of that international community—the international community that did so well to eradicate polio. The GPEI is an example of the world working together towards a common goal. We can do it again with respect to COVID-19 and the rollout of the vaccinations. The GPEI has also played a role in the fight against COVID-19. Many of their resources and infrastructure that were used to help fight polio are now being used to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread out of control in the developing nations. Setting COVID aside, our fight against polio is still not over. There's still work to be done, and much of the eradication effort has slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The progress that we have made so far is at some risk. So, although we are in a great battle against COVID-19, Australia must not forget the fight alongside the global community to continue the eradication of polio for good, wherever it exists.
I'm very pleased to stand here and speak on the private member's motion brought by the member for Higgins. I'd also like to commend the contribution from the member for Wills. I acknowledge the important and ongoing work led by the World Health Organization to eradicate polio worldwide. There is not only that organisation; there are many other organisations as well. Polio is a fatal infectious disease and there is no cure, but, with a safe and effective vaccine, it can be prevented. For the eradication of polio, the strategy is to provide immunisation to almost every child until transmission stops and to make the world polio free. I note the Australian government is firmly committed to the global eradication of wild poliovirus and the circulating vaccine-derived polio virus. The global initiatives to eradicate polio have been very successful. Since 1988, polio cases have reduced by some 99.9 per cent. For more than three years, the only countries with wild poliovirus are Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the polio program and the immunisation efforts have slowed.
Importantly, I want to focus a little bit on the importance of the eradication of polio, and, through that, acknowledge the efforts of Rotary International. Specifically, I want to take the opportunity to mention the Rotary Clubs of Beenleigh, Loganholme and Logan for their efforts. As we know, Rotary is an international organisation that takes on some of the world's toughest challenges. As a founding partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary has been working to eradicate polio for more than 35 years. Rotary's PolioPlus program was the first initiative to tackle global polio eradication by vaccinating children on a massive scale. Since their first project in 1979, vaccinating children in the Philippines, Rotary and their partners have helped immunise more than 2.5 billion children against polio in 122 countries. The program is one of their longest-standing and most significant efforts to eradicate polio. They focus on advocacy, fundraising, volunteer recruitment and awareness building.
World Polio Day, held on 24 October, is one of Rotary's initiatives to draw attention to polio. Every year the members of Beenleigh, Loganholme and Logan Rotary clubs raise funds and awareness to end polio. Many members have joined the End Polio Walk to support the continued campaign to rid the world of this disease. Rotary International established World Polio Day over a decade ago to commemorate the birth of Jonas Salk, who led the first team to the develop the vaccine against polio. The use of the inactivated vaccine for polio virus and the subsequent widespread use of the oral polio virus vaccine was developed by Albert Sabin, which led to the establishment of the initiative in 1988 with Rotary and its founding partners.
There were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries every year. Today, thanks to the work of Rotary and the members of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, nearly 19 million people who would have otherwise been paralysed are walking, and more than 1.5 million people who would have died are alive today. The infrastructure that Rotary helped build to end polio is also being used to treat and prevent other diseases, including COVID-19. With more than one million Rotary members being part of the program, they have contributed more than $2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect 2.5 billion children in 122 countries from this disease.
This government's commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is also to be noted, with $69 million of funding from the Morrison government towards the Global Polio Eradication Initiative supporting the eradication of polio and managing the risk of polio re-emerging.
I want to thank everyone at the Loganholme, Beenleigh, and Logan Rotary clubs for the enormous amount of work they are doing each and every day to contribute to the eradication of polio globally. To everybody involved in this very worthwhile project: thank you for your efforts and I wish you continued success in the future.
I rise to support the motion from the member for Higgins on this important topic, and I commend the previous speakers on both sides of this place for their thoughtful contributions on this important issue. It is timely we debate and recognise polio eradication efforts, because, again, we face similar challenges with the coronavirus here in Australia and around the world.
I'm going to start at home, in my electorate of Macnamara. I'm going to start with the very person who my electorate was named after, Dame Jean Macnamara. She was a scientist. She was a doctor. She was formidable. She was one of the first female doctors at the Royal Children's Hospital. She was a doctor at the Royal Children's Hospital when there weren't even facilities for female doctors to use during their breaks. She broke through many glass ceilings.
She was a fine doctor and a fine medical mind in Australia, and one of the things that was famous about Dame Jean Macnamara was her commitment to treating polio—specifically, kids with polio. Despite Dame Jean being an academic giant and a real pioneer in the treatment of polio, she was also very well known for her bedside manner. As we know, polio was a crippling disease that, comparatively, affected children at a very high rate. It was extremely debilitating for children. If you're a young person crippled with polio, it can be a really confronting and devastating time. But Dame Jean, so I'm told, had a way to comfort and had a way to make her young patients feel at ease and feel like there was a pathway forward for them, which is, I think, a remarkable thing, and one that's worth recognising in this place.
I'm very proud to be the member in the seat names in her honour. We actually created the Dame Jean Macnamara award last year. The award is available for young female students in year 6, for excellence in science, technology, engineering and maths. It is an award that I was pleased to present to a number of year 6 female students for their excellence in science and technology, just like Dame Jean Macnamara.
We come together today to debate this motion because we are faced with a similar challenge, a challenge where, just like the member for Wills mentioned before, our world has been put to a stop and we have been forced to take public health measures that no-one wants to take. These measures have been devastating for our society and for businesses, but we've done it in order to protect and prevent infection of this really awful coronavirus disease. But, just as with history, we can turn to the past for some of the answers. Dame Jean Macnamara was one of the pioneers of an immune serum for patients, which is said to have helped pave the way for the eventual Salk vaccine. It was the sort of technology that evolved and developed. Just like many other vaccines, it doesn't start with just that particular illness. With the trials, the technology, the science and the data accumulated over years of research, you're able to make discoveries with the speed with which we have.
The other person that Dame Jean Macnamara worked alongside was a classmate of hers, Macfarlane Burnet. The Burnet Institute is in my electorate—although I am sad to say that it may be moving premises eventually—and Professor Brendan Crabb occupies some space in Macnamara. I'm always amazed at the work that goes on in the Burnet Institute. Together with Macnamara, some of their efforts on polio were key to unravelling the pathway to eventually eradicate polio. But the way in which it was eradicated was through a vaccine—a safe vaccine that took years of scientific discovery and the dedication of brilliant minds like Macnamara and Burnet, but one that also required the participation of Australians and people right around the world.
If we can learn anything from the eradication of polio, it is that it is not over until it's over everywhere. Right now Pakistan and Afghanistan are still facing polio, and we must commit ourselves to eradicating it there. Likewise, with coronavirus, it's not over until it's eradicated everywhere, and we commit ourselves to vaccines and to eradicating this new virus.
Let me start by commending the member for Higgins for her motion. I share her passion for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. I was thinking about this motion this morning and casting my mind back to any way that polio may have touched me personally during my life, and the only memory that I could conjure up was actually having the vaccination when I was a kid and then later on in adult life when I had a booster vaccination—the serum on the tongue, no side effects, and the only lasting effect being that no-one in my immediate family or social circle, or anyone that I can remember, actually, during my life as a generation X, actually having had polio. I think this serves as a timely reminder that Australians are great vaccinators and that we need to continue through with the coronavirus vaccination across our great nation so that we don't have a situation like we've seen in the United States, with more than half a million deaths due to coronavirus. So I think Australians are fantastic vaccinators, and the polio vaccination was indeed an example of that.
The GPEI is a global effort to eradicate the poliovirus. It has been tremendously successful and is now very close to achieving global eradication of the poliovirus. This important initiative enjoys the support of the WHO and many nations, including ours here in Australia. The Morrison government is firmly committed to the global eradication of wild poliovirus and the global eradication of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus.
Key ministers provide that vital support. The Minister for Health and Aged Care, as a Polio Champion, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, as a Polio Gender Champion, are leading our nation's support for this initiative in a number of ways in Australia and internationally, including vaccination programs, surveillance, and polio virus containment initiatives. This includes $69 million in funding to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to support eradication and manage the risk of polio re-emerging in our region, which is a very real risk. The initiative has suffered setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That's why this motion is so important now, to help restore the momentum of polio immunisations in areas of the globe where it remains common. The progress of the global rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines presents opportunities to utilise that important work to also progress the polio vaccine delivery.
I'd like to acknowledge the contribution that a number of organisations are making in the fight against polio, including the Australian Polio Advocacy and Communications Team group and Rotary International, which is an organisation very close to my heart, as a former Rotary exchange student. Rotary International is doing a fantastic job in this space. I also want to acknowledge my district on the Gold Coast, district 9640, for the work they're doing on vaccinations at Griffith University in my electorate of Moncrieff. Also, UNICEF Australia, Global Citizen, and Results Australia are all doing great work in this space.
Australia's local success in fighting polio means that many younger Australians may not be aware of polio's impacts, especially gen Ys. Also, generally improving awareness of the prevalence of polio globally can contribute to awareness that leads to support for those organisations that are fighting polio. Consider these facts. Poliomyelitis affects mainly children under five years of age. Australia was declared polio free in 2000, and it remains in our strategic health security interest to ensure that any potential risk of an outbreak remains very low. Polio infection causes irreversible paralysis in one in 200 cases. And five to 10 per cent of paralysis cases die when their breathing muscles become immobilised.
While polio persists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the previous speaker mentioned, disruption of the surveillance activities in both those countries, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, may mean that the current figures underrepresent the scale of the problem—figures that show an increase in vaccine-derived polio and Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2020. This is probably a result of decreased vaccination coverage following the cessation of the GPEI polio vaccination program from late March to July 2020. In closing, can I say: let's continue to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, to drive it just those last few miles to make sure we eradicate polio across the globe.
The near-total eradication of polio is testament to what can be achieved through effective vaccine development, robust public health settings and strong community partnerships. While we're only at the beginning of that journey as an international community, with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, we can be guided by the success of the polio vaccine. Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a paralysing and potentially deadly infectious disease that most commonly affects children under the age of five. The virus spreads from person to person, typically through contaminated water. It can then attack the nervous system and lead to devastating degenerative impacts.
When I was a nurse, way back in the 1980s, in Melbourne, the most seriously polio-affected, ventilator-dependent people had to live at the Fairfield hospital. They lived there until 1996 and then lived at the Austin hospital's Bowen Centre until four new purpose-built houses were provided for them Thornbury in April 2007. Like many people my age, I can remember people in my community wearing painful callipers all their lives—and they were the ones who got off a little more easily than those people in Fairfield. And of course I also remember lining up for my Sabin, when I was a small girl, in my rural school in Eurack in south-west Victoria.
I want to pay particular tribute to the role of Rotary International and the countless local Rotary districts and clubs across Australia. They have worked tirelessly with global partners to eradicate polio for more than 35 years. As a founding member of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary has been instrumental to the global reduction of polio cases by 99.9 per cent since its first project to vaccinate children in the Philippines in 1979—what an extraordinary thing. Rotarians have contributed more than $2.1 billion and countless volunteer hours to protect nearly three billion children in 122 countries from this paralysing disease. Rotary's advocacy efforts have played a role in decisions by governments to contribute more than $10 billion to the effort.
While the Rotary campaign to eradicate polio is a global one, the efforts and hard work are truly local. There are countless members of Rotary clubs in district 9790, which spans my electorate of Indi, who have devoted decades of service to the polio eradication campaign, fundraising in their local communities to sponsor polio surveillance initiatives in high-risk areas, the vaccine rollout in hard-to-reach geographies and populations and effective public health awareness campaigns across South-East Asia and the Pacific to take away misinformation and stigmas associated with vaccination.
Recently I was invited to speak at the Rotary Club of Alexandra, and I was pleased to hear from the many Rotarians about their contributions to the polio and malaria eradication campaigns and their commitment to apply lessons learned to the COVID-19 vaccination program in Australia and abroad. I look forward to reaching out and speaking out with many other Rotary clubs across district 9790 in future to hear their insights and to learn from their wisdom on this important challenge too.
Rotarians worldwide know that effective vaccine rollout requires deep community engagement and respect for the views and natural hesitations of some. As I've said before in this place, if you're confused about whether to have the COVID-19 vaccine—if it works and what the side effects are—and if you're feeling anxious, that's okay; it's not wrong to have questions or to feel anxious. These are perfectly reasonable questions, and they're questions for your medical practitioner to answer for you. I really encourage you: speak to an expert, a medical practitioner.
Before I was a public health researcher, I spent 30-odd years as a nurse and a midwife, and I know that nobody refuses a vaccine because they're trying to harm themselves or other people; they do it because they honestly believe it's the best choice for their family. We must remember this now more than ever and design effective vaccine awareness campaigns that inform, not alienate or patronise, and Rotary can really help us with that.
As the motion cautions, polio eradication efforts have slowed and the incredible progress made so far is now at risk. There's work for us as a parliament to do to ensure that polio is completely eradicated. While wild polio only remains in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, there's every chance that polio could re-emerge if we don't finish what we started. The first major outbreak of polio was in 1894, and, while public health interventions and vaccine coordination have improved dramatically since then, it's humbling to see the long road ahead of us with the COVID-19 vaccines. It is the experiences of Rotarians, who work so hard for us, that can truly help us in the mission to deliver vaccine awareness campaigns in the community. (Time expired)
It's a great pleasure to contribute on this motion on polio. It's not been enjoyable, but it's been lovely to see everyone on all sides of politics come together over an issue like this. We often spend a lot of time in this Chamber and others arguing with each other, but obviously this is a topic that we've got complete unity and bipartisanship over.
I start by commending my good friend and colleague the member for Higgins for bringing this issue forward for debate. We are really lucky to have people like the member for Higgins with a background in a particular area like hers, in paediatric gastroenterology, now sitting in this parliament representing her community but also representing the vocation that she comes from, having spent decades dedicated to public health both as a doctor and a medical researcher. I thank her very much for bringing this forward.
It was an honour to have her a few weeks ago in my electorate in Adelaide. We went to the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to do a tour of that building and look at the sorts of things that they're working on there and what they will be doing in the proton therapy unit next door, which is currently under construction. It is hopefully going to be up and running in two years time, which will create a capacity in this country that we don't currently have—to undertake small localised radiation treatment, nuclear medicine on tumours. This will be particularly helpful for young children, as polio of course is a disease that affects young children. I just wanted to reflect on that and the value of having her there.
There's never been a more important time to talk about vaccination. A lot of the speakers have talked about coronavirus, and I will make a few brief remarks about that in a moment. With the success of vaccines almost wiping out polio and other diseases, there's never been a more important time to talk about this. We need to remind people how important and sensible it is to be vaccinated. The member for Moncrieff talked about the excellent record that we have in this country of people embracing vaccines. It's disappointing, to be frank, to see some people seeking attention—even over the last week—from an antivaccination point of view, but hopefully if we all work together as a united parliament we can give people confidence in being vaccinated, particularly against the coronavirus.
It amazes me that my father was born at a time when the polio vaccine wasn't available. It's something that you tend to take for granted. He grew up at a time when he was at a high risk of potentially contracting polio. We're so lucky that we live in an era now where that's just not the case. It's even more impressive that, in parts of the world like Africa, which has so many public health challenges, organisations that have been reflected on, like Rotary in particular, who are just sensational, in the work they do—and we all have Rotary clubs in our electorates. They're the most selfless, dedicated volunteers. The fact that they, with so many other organisations under the WHO's leadership, have contributed towards the eradication of polio in Africa is a testament to the work that they do and the fact that when you put your mind to something, when you're committed and dedicated to it, and when you've got the strength of numbers behind you, you can achieve these kinds of outcomes. There are two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where we haven't finished the job. I am very proud of the contribution that our government is making towards that objective, of complete eradication, and very hopeful that that can be achieved in those final two countries as quickly as possible. The fact that we've been able to eradicate it everywhere else shows that it's definitely achievable.
Finally on vaccinations, the coronavirus vaccination program commences today. What a perfect time it is to be talking about this in this chamber. I am certainly taking the opportunity as a member of parliament—and as I'm sure my colleagues are—to make sure we're spreading the word in our communities about the importance of people participating in this vaccination program. I had the opportunity to speak to one of my RSLs on Friday. It was a group of older people. It's not just about us all getting vaccinated; it's about telling everyone we know that they have to do it too. We can't risk younger people in particular not taking it as seriously as they need to. For the protection of all of our loved ones, I urge every Australian to participate in the coronavirus vaccination program over the coming months.