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Canberra urged to fund polio fight

Australian of the Year Simon McKeon has called on the federal government to eradicate polio.

Australian of the Year Simon McKeon says it's vital that the federal government back global efforts to eradicate polio.

McKeon has told a group of about 20 federal MPs that polio can be completely eradicated in the way that smallpox was in the 1970s.

"To some extent we've dropped the ball in relation to going on beyond smallpox and dealing with other conditions, particularly polio," he told the group of politicians.

McKeon, a prominent investment banker and philanthropist, said he was hopeful the federal government would commit adequate funds towards the global initiative.

"I'm looking forward to a positive announcement by the Australian government which says very plainly that we're part of this global effort to rid the world of this disease once and for all," he said.

"We've done 99 per cent of the work. We've actually done the majority of the hard work. It's just a matter of getting serious for once, putting the final nail in the coffin of this condition and dealing with those last four countries in which it's still endemic."

While smallpox is still found in several nations, Mr McKeon said it is only endemic in four; Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

He said political unrest should not be a reason to avoid taking action against polio as smallpox was successfully fought when there was conflict in many of the affected countries.

McKeon, a longtime campaigner to help eradicate polio, said the case for eliminating the disease was now very strong.

"A study published in The Lancet magazine four years ago suggested that the cost of ongoing containment of polio at current levels would exceed by billions of dollars the cost of simply eradicating it now," he said.

"Indeed the net economic impact of treatment costs and productivity gains are in the order of $40 billion to $50 billion. If this was a profit-making exercise this sort of return on investment would have been competed for actively by the corporate world in a couple of nanoseconds."

Mr McKeon said some did not believe smallpox could ever be beaten and there was no reason that polio could not also be defeated.

"There was apparently an American World Health Organisation official who many years ago said that in the campaign to rid India of smallpox, he said something like `I'll eat a tyre of a jeep when that happens'. Well, apparently he was sent a tyre. We don't know whether he ate it."


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