Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 143, Issue 90

Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Global Polio Eradication Initiative

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, in 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative undertook the largest public health project on earth ever. Their ambitious goal was to eliminate the worldwide scourge of polio. Since then, 2 billion children have been immunized in over 200 countries by 20 million volunteers.

These efforts reduced the global incidence of polio by 99 per cent. Canada played a large role in helping to get this close to the finish line of total eradication. In total, Canada has contributed nearly $200 million to this initiative.

There are currently four countries that remain polio endemic — India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. The challenges in these countries are high, as their populations are among the poorest, and in some cases, the hardest to reach.

In 2006, the number of cases reported increased in every single one of these countries. The evidence indicates that, despite the remarkable progress that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative achieved, we are now sliding backwards.

Polio is a highly infectious disease and its effects are devastating and lifelong. It can cause paralysis within hours, and it mainly affects the most vulnerable part of society — children. We cannot allow children to suffer unnecessarily and become paralyzed when prevention is available.

Polio causes mothers to lose their children and children to lose their future. Let me share with you the story of Gulai, a mother from a small village in the Uruzgan province of Afghanistan. Like any mother, her top priority is the health of her children and she wants them immunized; but no vaccinators have visited her village in two years.

There is currently a funding gap of $60 million for the first half of 2007. This money will allow the GPEI to purchase the vaccines and foster a safe environment for immunizing children.

Honourable senators, polio is a serious global problem, but it can be solved. Now that we are so close, it does not make sense to put on the brakes. A historic opportunity is at our fingertips. This is the time to see this initiative completed.

Canada has humanitarian, economic and global security interests in this issue. Canada should show leadership and commitment by contributing a significant amount to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

It is estimated that the savings from eradicating polio worldwide would top $1 billion annually. Honourable senators, the time to act is now.