UNICEF welcomed the announcement from the Government of Australia this week to commit an additional AU$18 million, pledged over two years (2019-2020), in support of the fight against polio eradication in the last remaining polio endemic countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
The funding will allow for critical polio eradication initiatives particularly in the area of vaccine procurement, polio surveillance and monitoring, immunisation campaigns and health systems strengthening.
With this new investment, the Government of Australia recommits its support to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a public-private partnership with five core partners – UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The GPEI was launched at the 1988 World Health Assembly with the goal of eradicating polio worldwide.
“This additional funding from the Government of Australia comes at a crucial time in the fight to end polio once and for all,” Tony Stuart, CEO at UNICEF Australia, said of this recent announcement.
“Australia has strong historical ties with the polio eradication initiative given that renowned Rotarian Sir Clem Renouf first launched the global effort to eliminate polio.
“In the global polio outbreak of the early 1950s, thousands of Australian children were paralysed or killed. This epidemic inspired the development of polio vaccines, and those same vaccines now have us literally on the doorstep of eradication.”
This week (June 12), global health leaders gathered at the Rotary Convention in Atlanta to reaffirm their commitment to eradicating polio by pledging US$1.2 billion to finance efforts to end the disease.
Australia remains a major donor to GPEI having pledged AU$50 million at the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and AU$36 million in 2015. This new announcement brings Australia’s total funding for GPEI to AU$104 million since 2011.
Within the GPEI, UNICEF is leading in vaccine supply and social mobilisation, reaching millions of children with polio vaccines multiple times every year in more than 70 countries. UNICEF has played a critical role using its global presence and equity focus to drive for excellence.
Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, recently visited UNICEF’s Polio Eradication Unit in New York to meet with key staff coordinating the global response, further underlining the Australian Government’s commitment to this winnable fight.
Mr Stuart added, “The world has never had a better opportunity to eradicate polio. In 2017, to date, only 5 cases of polio have been recorded globally, three in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan.
“That equates to a 99% reduction in cases since 1988, the year in which the polio eradication effort was launched to tackle the 350,000 cases of polio that were occurring each year across 125 countries.
“While the progress is considerable and the opportunity to finally eradicate polio is real, the risk remains – as long as one child is infected, every child globally is at risk. It is critical that all countries continue to maintain high immunity to polio until the virus is eradicated, once and for all,” Mr. Stuart concluded.