Australia recommits to eradicating ancient disease

Photo credit: GAVI Alliance

RESULTS International (Australia) Media Release

RESULTS International (Australia) applauds the commitment re-iterated by the Australian Government to eradicate polio from the entire world.

Australia will be investing $100 million towards the campaign, with the aim of eradicating polio completely by 2018. This investment not only honours an aid commitment made by the previous Labor government, but also shows the Abbott government’s dedication to eradicating the disease by extending and increasing our commitment.

This investment will be hosted by the Global Polio Eradication initiative (GPEI), which is the coordinating body for all international agencies working to eliminate and eradicate polio.

Polio is a viral disease that is transmitted through contaminated food and water, and multiplies in the intestine. It can affect the central nervous system, and causes paralysis in one in every 200 infections.

Since its establishment in 1988, GPEI has successfully reduced polio cases by more than 99%, from more than 300,000 per year to just 417 cases in 2013.

The announcement by the Foreign Minister came with the opening of Rotary’s 105th International Convention on Sunday. Hosted in Sydney this week, Rotary’s annual convention was opened Sunday by the NSW Premier Mike Baird and Prime Minister Tony Abbott and expects to see more than 18,000 international Rotarians.

“Eradicating polio around the world has been an Australian project,” Samantha Chivers, Global Health Campaign Manager at RESULTS Australia, said.

“It was a Queensland Rotarian, Sir Clem Renouf, who lived through the eradication of smallpox and had the vision that polio could be eradicated in the same way,” Samantha continued.

“Australian aid and community support has been vital in supporting GPEI and keeping the issue high on the agenda. Now we have to up the ante, as that last 1% will be the hardest.”

India, a country of over one billion people, saw its last case of polio in 2010, and was certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation in March this year. India joins the Pacific, Southeast Asian, European and American regions in being completely polio free.

Polio now remains endemic in only three countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, cases are beginning to re-emerge in countries including Ethiopia, Iraq, and Israel. War-torn Syria, whose health system has collapsed, was polio-free for 14 years, and was re-infected with the virus from Pakistan.

At the beginning of May, the World Health Organisation declared that the spread of polio is an international public health emergency.

Endemic polio is preventable by vaccination, with oral vaccination of three drops being the preferred method so far.

“The public health community has seen great success with the oral vaccine. However, in order to completely eradicate polio and not just prevent infection in an individual, an injectable vaccine is needed, and this complicates the logistics and increases the price substantially,” Samantha said.

The GAVI Alliance is the leading partnership providing vaccines to the developing world at low prices. GAVI announced earlier this year that it will begin supporting injectable polio vaccine (IPV) to 73 of the poorest countries in the world by the end of the year.

“We are very encouraged by the commitment made yesterday,” Samantha said.

“Increasing vaccination is a very effective use of our aid money. Now we need to see more support made to GAVI as well, so we can completely destroy this ancient disease forever.”

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