Global campaigns and united efforts to immunize every last child has seen polio reduced globally by 99%.
Despite this roaring success, wiping out the debilitating disease across the final smattering of nations has turned out to be the greatest challenge — demanding emergency outbreak response plans, persistent monitoring, innovation, and unprecedented partnership.
On Tuesday, Australian politicians and One Last Push Parliamentary Champions gathered at Parliament House in the nation’s capital for a World Polio Day Parliamentary Reception to recognize all that needs to be done to finally end polio.
Hosted by Global Citizen, UNICEF, Polio Australia, Results Australia, and Rotary, the event saw powerful speeches from Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Labor MP Peter Khalil, and Liberal MP Katie Allen. Ian Riseley, the past president of Rotary International, and Chris Maher, senior advisor to the director-general at the World Health Organization, also spoke.
Following remarks by Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia; Amelia Christie, CEO of Results Australia; and Sarah Meredith, Australian Country Director of Global Citizen, the event wrapped up with a moving speech from James Collier, a polio survivor and member of Polio Australia.
Allen and Khalil, both chairs of Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF, kicked off the event’s proceedings.
Khalil began by thanking Global Citizens and the supporters of UNICEF, Polio Australia, Results Australia, and Rotary for all the work and campaigning they do to ensure world leaders step up and tackle polio.
"The world is on the brink of polio eradication. And you've all done your little bit to help," Khalil said. “It's a collective effort.”
Over 65,000 Global Citizens have recently called on world leaders, including Australia, to invest in vaccines, and ensure no child dies because of where they are born.
Allen then spoke about how a world where all children can live free from polio was within grasp.
"I am very proud to be part of a government that has funded important [Australian aid] activities to ensure polio is eradicated through increasing vaccine initiatives,” she said. “There is nothing more important than giving to these initiatives. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could give children the opportunity not to have polio as a threat?"
Hunt then took to the podium to give an update on Australia’s recent polio eradication efforts.
Since 2011, the nation has contributed AUD $104 million to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a public-private partnership that works to achieve a polio-free world. Since its inception in 1988, the efforts of the GPEI has resulted in 18 million children, men, and women walking who would otherwise have been paralyzed by the deadly disease.
Australia’s investment has worked to support overall immunization efforts and specifically advanced the delivery of a polio response plan in Papua New Guinea after vaccine-derived polio was discovered in the nation in 2018 for the first time in 18 years.
"We recommit to working on one last push until the world can say we have eradicated polio forever," Hunt said. “It's been over 30 years since a wild case has been attributed and found within Australia. We have contributed within our region and within the world. The last few countries are indeed where that one last push has to be focused, as well as within our own region with vaccine-derived polio. Our work isn't done. It's a joint and shared responsibility.”
Riseley and Maher each then explained how much Australia’s previous funding for polio is appreciated and voiced how they hope Australia will continue to come to the table to ensure every last child is vaccinated.
"We are so proud of Australia's previous commitment to polio eradication, and we look forward to ongoing commitment and support,” Riseley said. “We will all benefit from a polio-free world.”
Maher also thanked Australia and urged the nation to continue to invest and “be behind what is happening to finish polio.”
Echoing Maher comments, Meredith specifically called for Australia to attend a GPEI pledging moment in Abu Dhabi in November and make a new pledge of $25 million.
"People want to see a better world,” she said. “Investing in polio is a great thing, and we want our government to do it. We are so proud of Australia, and we hope to see Australia leading the fight over the coming 12 months.”
You can take action and call for Australia to increase funds for polio eradication by taking action here.