Speech

Press conference on eradicating polio

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Prime Minister gave a press conference on eradicating polio with other world leaders on 29 October 2011 in Perth, Australia.

Prime Minister Gillard

Good morning, everyone. It’s a great pleasure to stand here today in support of global efforts to eradicate polio. I’m especially pleased to be standing here with Prime Minister Cameron, President Jonathan, Prime Minister Harper and Prime Minister Gilani, who have all shown tremendous leadership and personal commitment in this cause of eradicating polio.
 
Commonwealth countries have a strong history of working together on many important global challenges, and so it’s very fitting that we’re here this morning in a spirit of partnership and commitment. Partnership not only with each other as national governments, but also with our civil societies, including the inter- and non-governmental organisations which continue to play a vital role in overcoming polio. There are many representatives of those organisations here today, and I warmly welcome them today for their extraordinary work. Thank you for being with us.
 
One of these organisations is the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, 99 per cent of polio cases have been eradicated worldwide, so that is great progress. But while polio remains anywhere in the world, it is a threat to everyone.
 
So we are here today to demonstrate our commitment to ending the fight against polio; that is, ending polio for all time. I am very pleased to announce this morning that the Australian government will make a new funding commitment of $50 million to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to help end polio. We are very optimistic that contribution will make real results, it will help purchase vaccines, it will help carry out monitoring activities, it will help in containing outbreaks, it will be an investment in saving lives. Although polio affects a smaller number of children today than it used to, we need to keep this action going.
 
So we know that this will yield real results. At the end of the day, vaccinating against polio happens through the very simple action of putting some vaccine - a few drops of vaccine - in the mouth of a child. We can do that in our world and end polio forever. I am very pleased to be here with my fellow leaders, and I will call now on President Jonathan now to make some remarks.

President Jonathan

Thank you, Excellency. Our host, honourable Prime Minister of Australia, and other prime ministers who are here with me, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am particularly pleased to be here this morning with Commonwealth leaders to talk about polio, how we will get it eradicated in the world. I am particularly happy because Nigeria is a country where we still have vestiges of polio. To be with them this morning, to plan the complete eradication of polio, is a major achievement for us.
 
I promised when I met with Bill Gates earlier this year that Nigeria would make sure that we eradicate polio in the next two years. We had very bad cases of polio, but the government has worked so hard that out of the 36 states of the federation, polio is now limited to seven states. As of 2010, we reduced it by about 95 per cent; only 11 cases were recorded but somehow last year we recorded about 38 cases and we got worried. I insisted that I must set up a special task force; I’m going to inaugurate it in November, headed by my minister of state for health. I will work with the governors and traditional religious leaders, and I promise the world by the next two years surely we will eradicate polio.
 
We are stepping up our funding in polio from $17 million to $30 million within the next two years. That is $30 million every year in the next two years to make sure that with global assistance we will be able to eradicate polio. We have no choice because polio is quite debilitating. It kind of separates the victims from the rest of society and makes the families very miserable. As a leader, I wouldn’t want to see that among your children, especially knowing full well that it is a disease that you can completely eradicate and prevent.
 
So today I am happy. Let me thank the prime ministers that are here with me for showing interest, and of course for you who are here, journalists, the rest of civil society and other organisations that are quite interested in the eradication of polio. I will work with you to make sure that we end this debilitating problem that is a problem for the developing countries. Thank you.

Prime Minister Gillard

Thank you, your Excellency. Could I now invite Prime Minister Cameron to make some remarks?

Prime Minister Cameron

Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister. I’m delighted to be here and to welcome that commitment that President Jonathan has just made. Today, for the vast majority of countries polio has been eliminated and the harrowing image of children in iron lungs banished to the past. Today, there are eight million people who would otherwise be paralysed now walking because of polio vaccination. Annual infection rates have fallen over the second half of the century from 350,000 to around 1,000. We are in sight of the great goal of eradicating polio. There are now just four countries where polio transmission has never been stopped: that’s India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  But in India they haven’t had a case since January of this year.
 
But for all this progress, we haven’t quite finished the job and the truth is that nearly eradicated is just not good enough. Why? Well, what can be more of a moral imperative than stopping children dying from diseases that we have in our power to prevent? And when we have the vaccines and the tools to save the lives, there can be no excuse to put this off until tomorrow. Because while we are waiting, children are dying and that isn’t acceptable.
 
And if that isn’t enough of a reason, just consider this: polio is a highly contagious disease. A single person with polio can infect hundreds before it’s even been identified. So if we fail to get rid of polio completely, we run the risk that the disease will spread back to countries where it has been eliminated. And that is not just some theoretical risk. For example, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad were once all free of polio but have now seen cases re-emerge. Put simply: as long as one child remains at risk, all children remain at risk and that isn’t a risk we can take.
 
In January, the UK pledged a further £40 million of matched funding, doubling our contribution over this year and next, and bringing our total contribution since the inception of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to £540 million. We challenged others to match our extra funding with £5 for every extra pound, and that target has already been more than exceeded in the first year.
 
Britain is also the first ever G20 country to set out a clear plan to hit the UN 0.7 per cent aid target from 2013. I know in the long term we have to help countries not just by giving them money; no country has ever pulled itself out of poverty through aid alone. But few ideas are more powerful than the eradication of human disease. Just as people now live free from the fear of smallpox, so a polio-free world is within our grasp. What is missing is the political will to see it through. So in this week that marked World Polio Day, let us resolve to finish the job and let us eradicate polio once and for all. Thank you.

Prime Minister Gillard

Thank you. I would now like to invite Prime Minister Gilani to speak.

Prime Minister Gilani

Madam Prime Minister, excellencies, Pakistan fully supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. We appreciate the commitment of Australia for this timely initiative. We hope that the strategic plan 2010-2012 will help in protecting every child from polio.
 
We are seriously concerned that polio, which was eradicated from Pakistan, has resurfaced in the country during the past six to seven years. This situation is totally unacceptable for the government. There are certain reasons that there is a lot of cross-border movement from Afghanistan to Pakistan and we are in the middle of a war. Because of this situation, even the doctors cannot reach those areas. Even the terrain is so difficult. We have launched a national emergency action plan for polio eradication in the country. The goal of this campaign is to interrupt the transmission of the polio virus in Pakistan by the end of 2011.
 
Every three months, a three-day campaign is launched to administer polio drops to 33 million children across the country. The importance Pakistan attaches to this task is reflected by the fact that the President of Pakistan’s daughter, Asifa Bhutto Zardari, is designated as a goodwill ambassador for the eradication of polio since she was the first child to receive polio drops from her late mother, Prime Minister Bhutto.
 
We are according a high importance to the eradication of polio in our country. I have set up a polio monitoring cell in the Prime Minister’s secretariat. Monitoring cells are also functioning at the provincial and district levels. We hope to see a positive outcome of our efforts and commitment by December this year. We are closely coordinating the anti-polio campaign with Unicef and WHO, who regularly monitor the results. No doubt we have a huge task ahead of us, but we remain determined to eradicate this virus and protect every child in Pakistan from the scourge of polio.
 
There is another reason I want to explain at this forum. There are people because of the militancy and because of terrorism - we are fighting a war - but at the same time the people who belong to those areas, they are so orthodox and so fanatic that they don’t let even the doctors visit those areas. But we are trying our best and we are taking the religious scholars on board to help us. Thank you.

Prime Minister Gillard

Thank you very much. If I could now invite Prime Minister Harper to speak. Thank you.

Prime Minister Harper

Thank you, Prime Minister Gillard, for leading this important announcement here today. Fellow heads of government, ladies and gentlemen, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a remarkable coalition of volunteer effort, philanthropy and enlightened government programming. In the scope of its vision and the size of its accomplishment, it must surely be reckoned as one of the most successful examples of international cooperation since the Second World War. The government of Canada is proud to have supported it for many years.
 
When Rotary International first began the campaign that would lead to the 1988 WHO Resolution to eradicate polio, poliomyelitis was still a devastating disease all over the world, crippling those it touched for life. Then, as David Cameron mentioned, more than 350,000 people in 125 countries, mostly children, were infected. But people who cared had the courage to dream big dreams. Nothing less, in fact, than a world without polio, one in which children would grow up able to walk, where none would know the pain of stunted limbs and the poverty that so often went with paralysis. And so they got to work, and something remarkable has happened. They found that actually this problem that looked so large and so intractable could be solved. It could be solved one child, one vaccination, one small dose - at just 13 cents a dose - at a time.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, when doing good is that easy and that inexpensive, doing nothing is really inexcusable. Today the number of countries where polio remains a serious threat is, as has been mentioned, down to just four. One, I should add, is Afghanistan, where Canada has made polio eradication a key priority of Canada’s mission there. I’m happy to report that while polio is still categorised as endemic in Afghanistan, 85 per cent of the country is actually polio free. Now is the time for the final push. I congratulate the organisers of the Global Initiative, the many donors whose deep commitment we welcome, and the hundreds of volunteers who have brought polio so much closer to final extinction.
 
I am happy to be here today to confirm that the government of Canada will make a further investment in the world’s children through an additional grant to support strengthened global polio surveillance and immunisation systems. Once again, I want to thank you, Prime Minister Gillard, for the opportunity to be here as we make the final push for polio eradication.

Prime Minister Gillard

Thank you very much. I’d like to thank my fellow leaders for their words. I’d like to thank and acknowledge some other very special people in the audience. I am delighted that Dr Chris Maher, as acting head of the Initiative, has joined us here today from Geneva to receive this commitment in person. Polio must be a thing of the past and Chris is working hard on that.
 
I’d also like to acknowledge Ramesh Ferris, who is with us today. He is a polio survivor with a truly inspiring story, and he is working to build community awareness and support for polio eradication around the world, and I want to particularly acknowledge his efforts today. Thank you very much.
 
I also want to acknowledge the efforts of Rotary, in what has been a longstanding global initiative for change. And I’d like to remind everyone in this room that change is possible. When the Queen first visited Perth in 1954, it was in the grips of a polio epidemic. Of course, circumstances have changed in our country. Amongst the people who were the victims of that polio epidemic were former Labor leader Kim Beazley, now our ambassador to the United States. I learned for the first time this morning that Dr Ian Watt, the secretary of my department, also suffered polio as a child.
 
I say these words because it reminds us that this is an issue which within our lifetime was a problem right around the world, including in our own country of Australia. Now we are within grasping distance of the end of polio worldwide, and that is what we are determined to do. Remarkable change across our lifetimes, and what a great privilege it would be to be the generation that could say we had ended polio for all time.
 
I’d now like to direct your attention to the video screens and we will hear a message from Bill Gates, who through his Foundation has done so much work on vaccinating children, including against polio.

Bill Gates

Good morning. I’m sorry I can’t be there in person with you in Australia. I’m really grateful to all the leaders there for their visible leadership on a very important global health goal: polio eradication. I particularly want to thank Australia for its critical role in putting this issue on the agenda during the Commonwealth meeting. This is a great opportunity to build on the progress that has been made in health and development over the past decade.
 
It is particularly exciting to look at the opportunity we have to save millions of additional lives through immunisation. At the very top of our priority list is the campaign to eradicate polio. It shows how powerful vaccines are. In fact, I’m sure you all know we’re 99 per cent of the way there to stopping polio. But we’re at a crossroads and we need more urgency to finish that last 1 per cent. We saw recently that cases in China prove again that if we have polio anywhere, there’s a risk of polio spreading back and being everywhere.
 
And so despite the challenging economic environment, it’s important that we double down and make the commitment to finish this fight. For the countries where polio is a threat, we need a pledge for sustained action. The Commonwealth is showing great strength today in uniting against this common enemy. I am sure the action of the Commonwealth countries will encourage others to step forward with all the resources we need and the political commitments we need to finish polio eradication.
 
Our Foundation is proud to join you in making commitments by providing an additional US$40 million to the funds announced today. We are excited to be working in partnership with you and we really appreciate your leadership on this critical issue and the other health issues that will improve the productivity of people worldwide.

Prime Minister Gillard

Thank you very much. We have time for a couple of quick questions. 

Question

Given there are so many problems today, surely we need more democracy? Isn’t it time that the Head of the Commonwealth position was an elected position, and not based on hereditary rule?

Prime Minister Gillard

I’m not sure who that’s a question to. It might be you.

Prime Minister Cameron

I’m not sure of the link with polio. I think one of the things that unites the Commonwealth - this extraordinary organisation, a voluntary organisation that countries agree to come in and join - one of the things I think that unites us, and we saw it very clearly at the dinner last night, is huge admiration and respect for Her Majesty the Queen and the leadership that she has given to the Commonwealth and the passion that she has for the Commonwealth. I think actually it is something that brings us together and unites us, and I think in this, the year that’s about to be her 60th year on the throne, we should be thanking her for the leadership she’s brought to the Commonwealth on these issues rather than thinking of changing things.

Question

Prime Minister Gillard, two questions for you. First, forgive me for being cynical but I wondered if the seat on the UN Security Council is worth more to Australia than playing a little hardball this afternoon in the work you have ahead of you with many African countries, developing world countries and pushing harder to adopt all the recommendations in the Eminent Persons’ Report. And secondly, I understand some leaders are departing early. I understand Prime Minister Cameron and Prime Minister Harper may not be here for the finish tomorrow.  I wonder what you make of that.

Prime Minister Gillard

The Commonwealth is an organisation that works by consensus. That’s been part of its long-term strength, so as I chair the leaders’ retreat over the next two days we will be striving for a consensus. We have been working on reform proposals and already yesterday during the course of discussions we adopted a major set of reform proposals about strengthening the work of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. So my priority as chair is coordinating the discussions we will have today as we address issues like the Eminent Persons’ Group and work through to the consensus we can achieve on recommendations from the Eminent Persons’ Group. But I would remind people that progress has already been made during the course of the discussions.
 
On the attendance of leaders I understand, let me assure you, I understand the pressures on leaders’ time. I particularly understand that during this period where there are a number of international meetings of great significance. Prime Minister Cameron, for example, I think is amazing Australians by appearing to simultaneously be on their TV screens in Europe and here, as our TVs continue to carry the reports of the European meeting and now he’s here in Australia. So look, there are a lot of pressures on people’s time given issues in the global economy that we are moving to the G20 very quickly after this meeting. So I understand that leaders come and participate to the extent that they can given the other pressures on them.

Question

Ma’am, one can’t help but to appreciate the initiative which you are talking about just now. As Prime Minister Gilani has pointed out, cross-border movement from Afghanistan and the presence of militants who are resisting this immunisation campaign and vaccination efforts in some parts of the border area in Pakistan. I wish to know from you, and Prime Minister of Britain and Prime Minister of Canada since you three are present in the region, have you chalked out any strategy to stop these two points, first the cross-border movement from Afghanistan which is also causing instability in Pakistan, and second to stop the terrorists and militants from coming in the way of the immunisation and vaccination campaign? Thank you.

Prime Minister Gillard

Well, I will answer first and then turn to Prime Ministers Cameron and Harper. Australians are deployed in Afghanistan today as we stand here talking about polio. We have Australian soldiers deployed there; we have them in considerable numbers. For a nation our size, we have sustained a very considerable deployment to Afghanistan. And we are there because we want to ensure that Afghanistan does not again in the future become a safe haven for the training of terrorists. We are there particularly training members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan Police so that they can provide security for their nation. But we work in the province where we are predominantly focused, in Uruzgan Province; we work in a combined team which not only combines the efforts of our military but it brings our development workers there too because we understand that it’s about security but it’s also about development in Afghanistan, including the provision of vital healthcare services like immunisation from polio and about the provision of education and capacity building, particularly education for girls. And we have enabled girls to attend school in a way which has not been possible in the past.
 
I have said as Prime Minister of Australia to my nation that our deployment in Afghanistan will transition on a conditions basis. People would be aware that President Karzai has spoken about 2014 as the transition time for Afghanistan, but I’ve said to the people of Australia we will stay engaged in Afghanistan in some form to the end of this decade at least. And that means of course that we will have an ongoing partnership with the people of Afghanistan, including on aid and development questions. I think by building capacity in Afghanistan, we can address over time some of the issues that you raise. I will turn to Prime Minister Cameron for some comments.

Prime Minister Cameron

Obviously in Afghanistan we are supporting not just the British military presence; we are also supporting the governance in Afghanistan, and that includes the infrastructure needed to distribute vaccines. In Pakistan, that is also now our largest single aid programme. In terms of the specific points you make about cross-border problems and the militancy problem on both sides of the border, we want the closest possible cooperation with Pakistan and the closest possible cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan so we squeeze the problem of militancy and support for terror from both sides of the Durand Line. That is exactly what is required, and Prime Minister Gilani and I have spoken about this many times. The closest possible coordination, the closest possible effort so we deal with this problem on both sides of the border.

Prime Minister Gilani

May I explain this position? In fact there are two questions you have raised. One is the cross-border movement. For the cross-border movement, there is another problem which the world has forgotten about. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, there were 3.5 million refugees, those who are now in Pakistan at the moment for the last 30 years.  And the world has forgotten about those refugees. If the world helped us, those 3.5 million refugees who have married in Pakistan, who have businesses in Pakistan, who have studied in Pakistan, they should go back to Afghanistan and the relief camps should be inside Pakistan. That would help at least 70 per cent cross-border movement.
 
And the second is the biometric system, through which they cannot go to each other’s country without the thumb impression. And that has not been encouraged by the other side. I think that would also be possible. The last is that the terrain is extremely difficult; this is about more than 2,000km and that is so difficult you can’t defend it. As far as the militants are concerned who are objecting, that’s the job of the Pakistan government to negotiate with them, to negotiate at least with the local tribes to keep them away from the militants. Therefore, we have very successfully been able to isolate the militants from the local tribes. The local tribes are helping us for this polio campaign. 

Prime Minister Harper

Since our government took office, we have been dedicated to what we call the 3D approach to our engagement in Afghanistan, an integrated approach between defence, development and diplomacy. One of the - as I mentioned - top priorities of that engagement has been polio eradication, notwithstanding obviously the difficulty of the security situation. The fact of the matter is, as Prime Minister Cameron mentioned earlier, if we don’t stamp out polio we risk its reoccurrence not just in Afghanistan but all through the region and ultimately all over the world. And that is the risk we are trying to prevent.
 
In terms of your question about cross-border movements and cross-border terrorism, obviously we encourage and expect all governments to work together to eradicate not just polio but to eradicate the terrorist influences on both sides of the border.

Prime Minister Gillard

Thank you very much. Now, we must leave or we are going to be late for future events, but I thank everybody who has attended today, particularly those who have worked for a long period of time on polio eradication. Thank you for everything you do.