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For Lauren O'Connor, 27, The End of Polio's Global Communications Coordinator, campaigning for the eradication of polio has quickly become a part of who she is. "I went from thinking that polio was already eradicated to becoming super passionate about the work that's being done to reach the hardest to reach kids with the polio vaccine."
Polio is a disease that targets the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis and even death. Though polio can strike anyone, the disease mainly affects children that are 5-years-old and younger.
On May 28th, Australia announced $80 million in new funding towards polio eradication efforts, taking Australia's total commitment since 2011 to more than $130 million. The announcement came just one month after world leaders came together at the Global Vaccine Summit to pledge $4 billion to end polio.
In a parliamentary session following the announcement, Prime Minister Julia Gillard asserted Australia's role as a leader in the campaign against polio.
"We can make a difference and our nation will be proudly doing so," said the Prime Minister, recalling her own encounters with polio. "I remember as a young person, older children, admittedly, within my school who had had a personal battle with polio."
The End of Polio is a grassroots campaign coordinated by the Global Poverty Project, in support of global eradication efforts led by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Rotary International, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, and the Gates Foundation. The Global Poverty Project's Australian director, Ms. Samah Hadid, says that Australia's renewed commitment brings the world one step closer to completely eradicating polio.
"Polio is on the verge of being completely wiped out," said Ms Hadid. "It's one of the most economically viable diseases to end, and by doing so we are creating a polio-free future for every child, everywhere."
Global polio eradication efforts have managed to immunize more than 2.5 billion children, preventing more than 8 million cases of life-long paralysis or death since 1988. In 1988 there were more than 350,000 cases in 125 countries. In 2013, only 34 cases have been reported and only three countries who have never stopped polio.
Lauren attributes the stark reduction in the number of polio cases to the spirited commitment of anti-polio volunteers across the globe.
"People who are willing to walk seven hours to vaccinate kids in their community... travelling by foot, motorbikes, and donkeys to reach these kids and to make their lives better... that is simply breathtaking and fills me with optimism."
Through petitions, meetings with MPs, and an event held in March at Parliament House in Canberra, The End of Polio secured bipartisan support for polio eradication and was instrumental in convincing the Australian government to provide more than $130 million for the anti-polio campaign. In the week leading up to the announcement, the campaign's supporters sent more than 150 letters to Foreign Minister Bob Carr, asking him to use Mr Gates' visit to announce new funding.
For 22-year-old Pakistani student Yelmaz Sanjrani, the efforts of The End of Polio and recent announcements of financial support towards polio eradication gives him hope that one day Pakistan, one of just three countries that have never stopped polio (the others being Afghanistan and Nigeria), will be declared-polio free.
"I see people on the streets and in villages who suffer from polio because they did not have the chance to be vaccinated," explains Yelmaz, whose friend's sister suffers from polio. "The news is really great because it [the financial aid] gives parents the opportunity to see their children grow up without suffering... an opportunity that many older Pakistanis never had."
Nevertheless, with many children located in obscure and desperate villages, anti-polio workers are often faced with operational obstacles that challenge their ability to reach all children.
To overcome this, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says that anti-polio workers have been equipped with GPS-enabled devices, which enable them to locate all villages and ensure that no children were left unprotected from polio.
It is with the assistance pledged by global leaders and countries such as Australia, that vaccinators are able to be equipped with such technology.
However, with new cases being reported in Kenya and Somalia — countries that had previously been declared polio-free — Lauren warns that the global leaders must ensure that the funding for anti-polio campaigns is not interrupted.
"If the funding is not there, then vaccination campaigns are cancelled leaving millions of children un-vaccinated and putting the whole campaign at risk as it leaves an opportunity for a mass-outbreak."
Despite these challenges, Lauren remains optimistic that as long as world leaders continue to work together in support of polio eradication, no child will ever have to suffer the terrible disease.
"By coming together, we have a chance to make polio history," says Lauren. "By demonstrating how collective action can end a horrible disease, the path to eradicating other deadly diseases will be paved."
Our Aid Uncut campaign set the Government 3 tests for this year’s federal budget. How have they fared?
1: Keep Australia on track to spend 0.5% of national income on foreign aid by 2016-17.
Wayne Swan’s budget did increase the overall aid budget on paper, increasing aid from 0.35% of national income to 0.37%. This is actually the amount of aid needed to reach in 2013-14 if the Government was to stay on track to reach 0.5% by 2016-17. But the increase was coupled with a decision to postpone (for the second time in 2 years) the deadline by a further year: the new target date is 2017-18.
This second broken promise means that while the aid budget will still increase, it will increase far more slowly than the Government promised when it made its original commitment in 2007 which was re-iterated in 2010.
2: Finish the job on polio eradication.
No announcement was made in the budget but there is every reason to believe that new money for polio will be announced soon.
3: Ensure aid money is spent to help end poverty overseas.
In December 2012 the Government announced that it was ‘reprioritising’ $375 million of the aid budget – moving money from overseas anti-poverty programs to pay for onshore asylum seeker costs. This has been repeated for the 2013-14 budget and looks set to become a regular feature of the Government’s aid spend.
The Government argues that this is allowed under OECD rules governing what counts as aid. Whilst this may be true (the rules are somewhat flexible) onshore asylum costs are NOT covered by the Australian Government’s own definition of aid which it set out just one year ago and which is supposed to apply until 2015-16.
This may sound like a technical issue but changing the definition of Australian aid means that more aid money is being spent here in Australia and less aid is helping to end global poverty.
Taking the postponement of the 0.5% target by a further year ($1.9 billion) and the new refugee spending (capped at $1 billion) together means that over the next 4 years there will be $2.9 billion less real aid for overseas anti-poverty programmes compared to what was promised last year.
So people living in extreme poverty have paid the price for the collapse in Australian Government revenue that preceded this budget. That is not an outcome in which anyone should take pride.
We all want to see the end of extreme poverty. But how do you tackle it? As our colleague (and resident nomad!) d’Arcy likes to say, you can tackle this massive issue the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
We’re thrilled to share the news that we’re one bite closer to ending extreme poverty! Last week the global community came together and pledged US$4 billion to completely wipe out polio – a disease that affects some of our world’s most vulnerable children, pulling them and their families deeper into poverty.
Our Global Campaign Manager, Michael, was lucky enough to attend the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi last week, and watched in astonishment as governments including Canada and the UK joined Bill Gates and other philanthropists in making substantial funding commitments for a new plan to wipe out all polio, everywhere, by 2018. While that’s exciting news in its own right, what made it even more special was the knowledge that our supporters (i.e. you) had played an incredibly important role in securing these commitments – particularly from the Canadian and British governments.
How we did it
At the Global Poverty Project, we know that, in democratic societies at least, governments represent their constituents and act according to their wishes. As Bono says, “we can’t blame the politicians because we have to give them permission to spend what is in the end our money.” So we work to increase the number and effectiveness of ordinary citizens taking action to influence key decision-makers to do more to end extreme poverty and diseases like polio.
So when we heard that the global partnership working to end polio had come up with a new plan to eradicate this disease within the next six years, we knew that we needed to mobilise large numbers of people in some of the world’s wealthiest countries – namely, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – to convince their governments to help fund this new plan.
To do this, we took a four-pronged approach: media, events, public action and direct advocacy.
What better way to reach large numbers of people, including regular citizens and politicians, than to get the extraordinary story of polio eradication out in the media? We wrote op-eds, hosted newsworthy events (see below) and built relationships with key journalists, leading to more than 100 media clippings including coverage by the BBC, the Islam Channel, Embassy Magazine, the Independent on Sunday, the Sydney Morning Herald, Radio NZ National and the Diplomatic Courier. We worked in close collaboration with other organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UN Foundation and Rotary International to ensure a steady stream of “surround sound” around this issue, encouraging more people to join the campaign and encouraging governments to take this issue seriously.
Events kill many birds with one stone. They are an ideal platform for interacting with decision-makers and loyal supporters, while giving you a chance to secure media and public interest.
First we asked folks to sign the petition either on our website or through Global Citizen - and 40,000 people in 150 countries did!
This gave us a clear measure to demonstrate the breadth of public support for polio eradication; but we knew we also needed to show the depth. So we asked those who had signed the petition to take further actions, either to get their friends, family and followers to join the campaign or to demonstrate to world leaders the level of their support.
The response was incredible. Our supporters tweeted, posted on Facebook, wrote emails, penned letters, made phone calls and even met with their elected representatives to personally encourage them to take up the case. Together we helped build a global movement in support of eradicating this cruel virus.
We had a lot of meetings with government decision-makers. And almost every time we went, we took along the petition to demonstrate that there were 40,000 people behind us. Michael and Akram Azimi, the Young Australian of the Year and ambassador for this campaign, met with more than 25 members of parliament, including the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, in Australia alone.
We asked the government officials we met with to show their support for the campaign in concrete and tangible ways. Whether they were diplomats, bureaucrats, cabinet ministers or legislators, we asked them to express their support through tweeting, speaking in parliamentary debates, writing to their party leader and, ultimately, supporting an increase in funding from their respective governments.
Last week saw a historic moment – with more than 70% of the funding needed to end polio funded, up front, by the global community. But there’s still US$1.5 billion needed to completely wipe out this disease. We know that, without 100% in funding being fully committed, we are placing this unique opportunity at risk.
Funding shortfalls have plagued polio eradication efforts for too long, causing children to miss out on the vital protection of the polio vaccine and creating the ideal conditions for mass outbreaks. We have a narrow window of opportunity to wipe out this disease, right now, otherwise it will return with a vengeance, and paralyse more than 200,000 children a year.
At last week’s Global Vaccine Summit, Bill Gates was asked where he hoped the remaining funds would come from. He responded by singling out three countries in particular: Australia, Japan and the United States.
We don’t as yet have a presence in Japan, but we are determined to convince the Australian and American governments to pay for their fair share. So we need to keep up the momentum and continue to press the case in coming months. We mustn’t give up when we’re so close! In fact, if you have five minutes, why not show your continued support right now by taking the time to contact key decision-makers in the US and Australia.
This didn’t happen by magic. But nor is there a single explanation for it. To borrow from The Global Poverty Project language archive – there are 200 million reasons.
One of these is foreign aid. Aid is not perfect - no government spending or private investment ever is. But good aid, spent well, has made a difference.
Polio is one example. Without vaccination programs paid for by foreign aid, including money provided by the Australian Government, we would not be close to eradicating only the second disease in human history. 25 years ago there were 350,000 cases of polio; last year there were just 223.
But you do see long-time aid champions like Norway making the case for anti-poverty action on a range of issues.
So the choice for Australia and Australians is clear: do we want to champion aid as part of our efforts to help end extreme poverty? Or will it be death by a thousand cuts as we abandon the people who need our help the most?
Kristen Ball and Stefan Borowski's 5th grade classroom at New Canaan Country School in Connecticut have worked together to develop menus for the Live Below the Line challenge.
Kristen Ball and Stefan Borowski taught their students about issues of extreme poverty and explained what the Live Below the Line challenge is about. Kristen and Stefan's students were surprised to learn that 1.2 billion people around the world are currently living in extreme poverty.
Kirsten Ball will participate in the Live Below the Line challenge this year and will live on less than $1.50 a day for 5 days to help raise awarness about extreme poverty.
Students used the worksheet pictured above to research foods that were nutritious and would fit within the budget of $1.50 a day. The worksheet gave students practice researching, adding, subtracting, multiplying with deciminals and looking at quantities over time.
As they prepared their teacher for the challenge, the students realized how little they could purchase for $1.50 a day. They became more aware of everyday spending and realized that, thought living Below the Line will be challenging, it does not compare to the issues faced by people living in extreme poverty every day.