|© 2011 Global Polio Eradication Initiative|
|At centre, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard flanked by (from left) Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan.|
By Rod Curtis
PERTH, Australia, 31 October 2011 – World leaders from Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Nigeria and Pakistan joined Bill Gates on Saturday in pledging $122 million in new funds to help deliver a polio-free world.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard led the call at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia, announcing a $50 million commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), which she called “an investment in saving lives.” Three of the four remaining polio-endemic countries – India, Nigeria and Pakistan – are members of the Commonwealth.
The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, announced an additional $15 million in funding, and Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan announced a $17 million increase in domestic funding per annum, while Bill Gates joined the press conference by video link and announced $40 million in support, to match the 40 million pounds committed by the United Kingdom earlier this year.
At a joint press conference with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Mr. Harper and Mr. Jonathan, Ms. Gillard declared the five countries were “here today to demonstrate our commitment to end polio for all time.”
"We are within grasp of declaring the end of polio worldwide," said Ms. Gillard. “We need to keep this action going. We know it will yield real results. At the end of the day, it’s a simple action of two drops of vaccine. We can do that in our world and end polio forever.”
Mr. Cameron joined the chorus, declaring that the world was in sight of “the great goal of eradicating polio.”
“Nearly eradicated is not good enough,” he said. “When we have the vaccines and tools to save children’s lives, it is not good enough to wait. Because while we wait, children are dying.”
|A health worker administers an oral polio vaccine to five-year-old Asiya Aminu, as other children and parents watch, outside Mallam Mohammed Koranic School in in Zaria Town in the northern state of Kaduna, Nigeria. The support of religious leaders helps increase awareness and participation on polio eradication.|
Mr. Cameron challenged other countries to follow their example, saying “few ideas are more powerful than the eradication of human disease. What is missing is the political will to see it through. Let us eradicate polio once and for all.”
At a crossroads
Mr. Harper said Canada had made polio eradication a key aspect of its mission in Afghanistan. “Now is the time for the final push,” he said. “If we don’t stamp out polio, we risk its re-emergence, not just in the region but around the world.”
Mr. Jonathan thanked his fellow leaders for their generosity and reiterated that polio eradication was a major priority in Nigeria – one of only four countries never to have stopped polio transmission. “This is a major announcement for us, because Nigeria is one of the countries that still have cases of polio. I promise the world that in the next two years, we will eradicate polio.”
Mr. Gates, via video, emphasized that polio eradication was at the top of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s priority list.
“We’re at a crossroads, and we need more urgency to finish that last one per cent,” said Mr. Gates. “It’s important that we double down and make the commitment to finish the fight.”
The final push
The Australian contribution comes at a time of urgent and fundamental change for the GPEI, spearheaded by national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF. With polio 99 per cent gone, the final one per cent is the toughest step, requiring steadfast focus and ingenuity to root out the virus from the few places it still paralyzes children – and this contribution enables the GPEI to do so.
The Global Poverty Project, an Australian-grown advocacy, campaign and public education organization, ran a year-long campaign to lobby the Australian Government to add polio to the agenda in Perth, where a quarter of the world’s leaders gathered for the Commonwealth meeting. Over the past 100 days, nearly 25,000 people signed a petition to urge Commonwealth leaders to make the eradication of polio an urgent international priority.
Global Poverty Project CEO Hugh Evans was overwhelmed by the success of the multi-country announcement. “We’re very happy that the Australian Government adopted the recommendation that all of us have been asking for. We are on the cusp of a truly historic opportunity, and now is not the time at the 11th hour to falter – it’s the time to finish the job.”