How is Australia performing in contributing to polio eradication?

In 2017, the world stands closer than ever before to eradicating polio, a nearly unparalleled public health achievement. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), housed at the World Health Organization (WHO) and comprised of five core partners: the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF), Rotary International, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the WHO, leads this initiative.

GPEI has made remarkable progress since its inception in 1988, when more than 365,000 people every year still suffered from paralysis due to polio. Today, polio cases are endemic in only three countries, and 2016 saw the fewest cases ever reported—only 37 in the entire year.

A generous network of public and private donors funds the incredible work to eradicate polio. To completely eradicate polio from the globe, GPEI seeks funding from donors approximately every three to five years to fund the next phase of its work during a replenishment. The most recent replenishment occurred in 2013 and raised a total commitment of US $5.5 billion, with most contributors committing funding for the 2013–2017 period.  Australia committed $80 million over four years at this replenishment.

Gearing up for its next replenishment on June 12, 2017, at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, GPEI seeks to raise an additional $1.5 billion. This will fully fund its operations through the eradication of polio and the critical three-year certification period following the world’s last polio case. As part of ACTION’s efforts to ensure GPEI remains fully funded, we have launched the ACTION Polio Accountability Tool.

This new tool tells the unique history of polio eradication and tracks the government dollars required to make eradication a likelihood. With an eye to impact, the timeline section of the tool demonstrates how funding for GPEI has continually created lasting reductions in polio burden globally and improved health for people all over the world.

In the scorecard section, the tool captures 99 percent of public donor commitments to polio eradication and measures donor performance in making and delivering on commitments in the latest replenishment round. It also provides a recommendation to donors for the level they should contribute to polio eradication efforts in the next three years.

Australians have played a major role in the campaign to eradicate polio, with Australian Rotarian Sir Clem Renouf launching Rotary’s campaign in the 1980s.  The Australian Government has been a consistent supporter of the GPEI, but its level of support is due to decline significantly to $3 million in each of the next two financial years.  As the Scorecard notes, Australia needs to raise this annual contribution to at least $15 million per year to contribute its share of the $US 1.5 billion the GPEI requires to achieve and sustain the  eradication of polio.  

Polio eradication has the potential to be the first milestone achievement of the Global Goals era. Indeed, there is arguably no better way to demonstrate that the end of extreme poverty is possible than by reaching every child with life-saving vaccines and by achieving the eradication of a disease. Furthermore, the knowledge, skills and systems learnt from polio eradication will form a major contribution to tackling other diseases and strengthening health systems.

It is essential for Australia to build on its long-standing support for eradicating polio, and provide continued funding for the GPEI, so we can finally consign this horrific, ancient disease to the history books.