UNICEF Australia Chief Executive Officer Norman Gillespie said the organisation, and its Australian peers in Rotary International and the Global Poverty Project, had lobbied both sides of politics to win a “long-haul” commitment to end polio and eradicate the health risk to children.
“The debilitating and sometimes life-threatening impact of polio hits children hardest and leaves them with a legacy they carry into adulthood,” Dr Gillespie said. “It would be a proud moment for our Government to say it contributed to ending polio, but a sorry one if aid funding to international polio programs fell.
Dr Gillespie said the international effort to end polio rejoiced in news last month that the World Health Organisation had removed Nigeria from a list of just three endemic countries.
However, he said the news would be tainted if the Australian Government failed to maintain its financial commitment to eradicating the virus.
“Polio is still harming children in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan and still a threat wherever children are on the move as a result of conflict. If we lose sight of eradicating polio where it still has a strangle-hold, we risk undoing the work we’ve already done.”
Dr Gillespie said an outbreak in conflict-riddled Syria last year and an outbreak in the Ukraine and Laos this year were a sign the deadly disease could, and would, spread.
UNICEF Head of Polio and Australian, Peter Crowley, echoed Dr Gillespie’s words saying the global effort to end polio could not lose pace.
“Until all children everywhere are consistently and routinely immunised against polio, the threat remains,” Dr Crowley said. “We cannot let down our guard; we have to keep going until there is not a single child anywhere who remains unvaccinated.”
World Polio Day is a United Nations-endorsed international day held on October 24.