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ImpactHealth

Global Citizen secures fund from Australia to end polio

Flickr: RIBI Image Library

Since 2011, campaigning by global citizens has secured more than A$80 million for polio eradication from the Australian Government.

In 2011, Global Citizen created and ran The End of Polio campaign, sharing the story of progress towards polio eradication, while helping build the public and political support and momentum required to close the funding gap threatening eradication efforts.

When we commenced our campaigning, Australia had not contributed to polio eradication efforts in a decade, and when we first spoke to the Government in March 2011, they told us that this was not a priority investment area for them.

We believed otherwise - it was an Australian member of Rotary International who had started the global campaign to eradicate polio in the 1980s, and as Australia grew its aid budget, we saw polio as a cost-effective, impactful place for Australia to invest.

We started a petition that saw $1 raised for polio eradication by each signature from a local Rotary club as a means of showing public support to change the government’s policy. We recruited 80 young people to participate in a grassroots ambassador program, and they spoke to and signed up thousands of supporters. We took these voices to Parliament, handing over the petition from more than 20,000 people to the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who agreed to look into the issue. Following further campaigning and media placements by us and our partners at Rotary International and UNICEF, we secured Australia’s commitment to include polio eradication as a discussion point around the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which they were hosting.

To maximise pressure on world leaders attending CHOGM, we organized The End of Polio Concert featuring John Legend, giving away tickets to campaign supporters who signed our petition. 5,000 people attended, and Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd spoke from the stage saying that our voices had been heard and the Government would make a commitment.

The next morning five world leaders - Australian PM Gillard, UK PM Cameron, Pakistan PM Gilani, Canadian PM Harper and Nigerian President Jonathan, along with philanthropist Bill Gates, announced $118m in new funding for polio eradication as a direct result of our campaigning. Of this, Australia committed A$50m over the following four years.

In January 2012, as India celebrated its first year polio free, we mobilised to put this issue, and this remarkable story of progress, into the headlines. As Australia faced off against India for the Third Cricket Test Match, we engaged Indian cricket legend and polio-survivor Bhagwath Chandresekhar, and prominent Australian cricketer Brett Lee as campaign ambassadors, reaching millions through associated media, and mobilising a dozen ambassadors to speak to 3,000 cricket spectators at the cricket, and ensure that the Australian Government honored its 2011 pledge.

In 2013, we campaigned for Australia to increase its commitment as part of a global push for the Global Vaccine Summit, which sought to raise $4.5 billion for polio eradication. We had our grassroots supporters write hundreds of hand-written letters to Foreign Minister Carr as we toured Australia with 2013 Young Australian of the Year Akram Azimi, reaching 300,000 people with The End of Polio campaign. 60,000 people signed onto The End of Polio petition, Minister Carr and then Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop both reiterated their support at a special Global Citizen event held on the lawn of Parliament House, and thousands shared our call on social media. In response, PM Gillard pledged to contribute an additional AU$80 million to global polio eradication efforts by 2018.

In late 2013, the Government changed following an election, and all previous commitments were effectively nullified as the new Government made unprecedented cuts to the Australian aid program. That’s why in 2014, global citizens sent PM Abbott (Gillard’s successor) hundreds of emails, taking more than 8,000 actions using our polio infographic on social media. Our team also met with 80 MPs and senators, including then Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, Chief Government Whip, Philip Ruddock, and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Brett Mason. In response to this pressure from global citizens and our partners at Rotary, in June 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recommitted the remaining A$100m over 5 years - maintaining the A$130m total, a commitment set to affect the lives of 21.1 million people.

By September-2015, Australia had transferred A$50m of its A$130m pledge. However, following large cuts to the foreign aid budget, the government said that it would be able to deliver only a further $36 million of the remaining A$80m, reducing their investment to a total of A$86m.

In response, we joined forces with Rotary International to campaign to have these cuts reversed. We made our discontent known publicly, with our Global Advocacy Director, Michael Sheldrick, being quoted alongside Rotary in the Sydney Morning Herald, calling on the cuts to be reversed. At a breakfast organised by Global Citizen and Rotary on World Polio Day 2015 at Parliament House, then Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Steven Ciobo, said he had received more tweets from global citizens on polio than anything else and committed to look into the cuts.

As a result of our campaigning, we successfully got the new PM Malcolm Turnbull to reaffirm his Government’s support for polio eradication at CHOGM 2015 held in Malta. At the Summit, Malcolm Turnbull made one of his few statements on international development, specifically about polio, saying:

"We are very committed to this campaign and this issue. It is of vital importance to the people of every country. It's a great tribute to the generosity, the philanthropy, in the truest sense of the world, of the Commonwealth that polio eradication is deemed such a big priority in Malta.”

Following CHOGM, in early 2016, we received official confirmation from the Australian Government that while the cuts would not be reversed, they would respond to our request to disburse the remaining A$36M as soon as possible in order to facilitate the purchase of much needed vaccines and would also consider how additional funding to the World Bank Group could also be drawn on to support the program. As a result, at least A$30M is set to be contributed to polio eradication efforts in the 2016 calendar year. WHO and other partners have previously said that as far as they are concerned, this breakthrough is due in no small part to the efforts of global citizens.

We continue to campaign both publicly and privately to ensure Australia fully delivers on its A$130m commitment to polio eradication.