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MPs urged to join world push to wipe out polio

Australian of the Year 2011 Simon McKeon has called on Australia's parliamentarians to help put an end to polio.

At Parliament House last night, the investment banker and philanthropist announced his support for The End of Polio campaign, designed to raise US$590 million needed to eradicate the disease through immunisation.

''We defeated smallpox 34 years ago, why haven't we done a repeat exercise with something as obvious as polio?'' Mr McKeon said.

Since the introduction of vaccines in the 1950s and 1960s, the highly infectious disease, which can cause permanent paralysis, has almost been wiped out. The number of polio cases worldwide fell from 350,000 a year in 1988 to 1349 in 2010. But polio is still endemic in Commonwealth countries Nigeria, India and Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

An initiative of advocacy group, The Global Poverty Project, the polio campaign asks the Australian Government to contribute $50 million to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a partnership between governments and organisations such as Rotary International, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund.

The End of Polio campaign also seeks to put polio on the agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth next month.


Mr McKeon, who is a director of The Global Poverty Project, said the global community should have stamped out polio years ago.

''We have an opportunity now for literally a few hundred million dollars to assign it to the history books,'' he said.

''I would go so far as to say, the fact that we haven't obliterated it, is actually a bit of a blight on us.''

The current Australian of the Year said that despite being a global problem, polio was still an Australian concern.

Last month, Canberra MP Andrew Leigh moved a motion in Parliament, calling upon the Government to support efforts to deliver a polio-free world.