Australia will supply $10 million dollars to Papua New Guinea to help tackle the spread of infectious diseases and expand nationwide vaccination rates, newly appointed Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced.
The funding boost was declared in response to reports that Papua New Guinea, Australia’s closest neighbour, recently experienced its first case of vaccine-derived polio in 18 years. A nationwide polio virus outbreak has since ensued, with 12 cases of the disease confirmed and a national public health emergency declared.
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"The Australian High Commission in Port Moresby is working closely with the Papua New Guinea Government, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF to monitor the current polio outbreak and provide assistance,” Payne announced in a statement. “Outbreaks of infectious diseases are a threat to both Papua New Guinea’s and Australia’s health security.”
Canberra revealed the funds would go directly towards Papua New Guinea’s $21 million emergency vaccination campaign, expected to begin in Port Moresby on Sept. 24 and nationwide on Oct. 1.
Australia’s monetary contribution will sit alongside $3 million pledged by the Papua New Guinea government as well as funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States, Canada, and Korea.
Pasco Kase, the secretary of Papua New Guinea’s National Department of Health, announced the increasing number of new polio cases is “very concerning.”
"Every new case of polio isn’t just a statistic. Each represents a child that will be permanently paralysed,” he stated, before announcing the upcoming nationwide campaign intends to target highly populated areas like mining communities and settlements. “Throughout this campaign we are aiming to reach and vaccinate more than 3.3 million children aged 0 to 15 years across the country."
In June, Papua New Guinea became one of the few countries in the world to see the return of polio. As a rapid response gets underway, experts say the outbreak was entirely avoidable. https://t.co/fkLMFayjv1— RNZ Pacific (@RNZPacific) September 16, 2018
In recent years, Papua New Guinea has witnessed significantly declining immunisation coverage.
The World Health Organisation reported Papua New Guinea has observed a half-hearted approach to vaccinations since being declared polio-free in 2000. As a result, vaccine coverage has fallen from 80% to 30% in the past 20 years.
Australia has long been a leader in efforts to end preventable infectious diseases, both globally and specifically within Papua New Guinea.
Despite Australia’s overall miniscule foreign aid budget, the nation has given considerable funds over decades to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and UNICEF. This latest financial injection follows on from an existing $18 million dollar donation to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative for 2018 - 2020.