Abbott Gov must make meaningful vaccination contribution

On the outskirts of the Laotian capital of Vientiane a group of primary school aged girls file into the village clinic armed with their little yellow vaccination books.

There are no tears as each line up and receive the sharp jab of the vaccination needle evidently aware that the HPV Vaccine they were receiving was significantly reducing their risk of cervical cancer later in life.

Australian aid is saving lives in poorer countries in our region and I have seen firsthand the difference our partnership with the Global Alliance for Vaccines (Gavi) is making.

But a recent lacklustre response to Ebola and an unprecedented attack on foreign aid has put pressure on the Abbott Government to make a meaningful contribution when the world meets next week to discuss global immunisation.

This week Gavi partners will gather in Berlin where it is hoped they will combine to raise US$7.5 billion to support the Vaccine Alliance’s goal to vaccinate 300 million children between 2016 and 2020 and save six million lives.

Founded by Bill and Melinda Gates, Gavi has been a shining example of global humanitarianism; a public-private partnership that has immunised 440 million children, saving six million from diseases like hepatitis B, polio and yellow fever, and lifting countless out of poverty caused by poor health

According to the World Health Organisation 1 in 5 children are not fully immunised with basic vaccination and 1.5 million children under five lose their lives to vaccine preventable diseases every year.

It is difficult to fathom a cause more worthy of Australia’s foreign aid.

But despite the significant and tangible humanitarian success of Gavi, the Abbott Government has so far failed to provide it ongoing financial support beyond 2016. Our future commitment to this program must be rectified this week.

The Gavi process works and I have seen it work. Many countries come together to pool resources and drive down the cost of medicines. If Australia doesn’t pull its weight and the fund has a shortfall, the cost per unit of vaccinations in the program may rise. Meaning less children will be vaccinated and tragically be at greater risk of preventable disease.

The Government has treated foreign aid as their own personal piggy bank justifying its raiding with hyperbolic talk of ‘a Budget emergency’.

Meanwhile, other countries are looked at to pick up the slack.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper  announced in November a contribution of C$500 million for Gavi to perform its life saving work through to 2020.

There’s no two ways about it, the Abbott Government’s approach to overseas aid has damaged Australia’s reputation as a generous and compassionate global citizen.

Since coming to office in 2013 Tony Abbott has cut $11 billion from our foreign aid spend diminishing our nation’s contribution to the world’s poor to an embarrassing 22 cents in every $100 of national income.

Mr Abbott and Julie Bishop must come to the table with a meaningful contribution to global immunisation not just to do our bit to alleviate suffering and poverty but to remind the world Australia still cares.

This opinion piece was first published on the Online Opinion website on Wednesday the 28th of January 2015.

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