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Global Polio Eradication Initiative

24 Feb | '2021

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.

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