health

Braver choices needed to keep us all safe

Leila Stennett writes about what bravery looks like to her.

When I think about bravery, I think about my friend Mohammad.

He spends his days traversing his home, Afghanistan, undertaking highly dangerous and often life-threatening missions. The safety of his family is never guaranteed; they have been threatened because of what Mohammad does for a living.

He is a wanted man, a target permanently on his back and an eye permanently cast over his shoulder because of the risk he takes day in, day out.

Mohammad’s job? He vaccinates children. Mohammed Naseem is the Head of Mission, HealthNet TPO, Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, polio vaccinators are regularly threatened, intimidated, beaten and even killed.

Rumours abound that polio vaccinators are American spies, or that polio vaccines are a form of chemical warfare.

So why doesn’t Mohammad leave, or get another job?

Despite the relative ease with which he could move to Europe and have a new life, Mohammad refuses. He has pride in his country, he told me over breakfast this morning, and faith in its potential.

I wish I could say the same about my own country.

Right now, I am meeting with several people just like Mohammad who have committed their lives to getting vaccines to the hardest to reach kids. And our Government has cut the very same part of the budget that helps get vaccines into the hands of brave people like Mohammad, who walk, ride bikes, row boats and dodge bullets to get them to kids who need them.

More than $300 million has been gouged out of aid this time – the latest in a long line of cuts that have added up to well over $11 billion in the last four years.

I am embarrassed, struggling to look my colleagues in the eye as our already record-low aid budget is devastated even further. This, despite over 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth in Australia and a seemingly rosy economic future for Australians.

To give you a sense of what that $300 million could do, let me tell you about polio. This disease once claimed the lives and the mobility of children in Australia regularly, and if you’re in your mid-twenties like me, it’s likely your grandparents and parents can tell you stories of classmates who came back from school holidays with their legs in braces, or they didn’t come back at all. Polio has been on the decline, thanks largely to the commitment of Sir Clem Renouf and Rotarians worldwide, who have funded 10 billion polio vaccination since 1979. Last year, polio infected 74 people worldwide, and 2017 could be the last time we ever see a polio case in history.

But that will only happen with one last push; a final investment in reaching every child.

A two-drop dose of Oral Poliovirus Vaccine (OPV) to protect a child against polio costs around 13 cents. The cost to finish the job of ending polio globally is estimated to be $1.5 billion.

This is just one example.

Aid also plays a part in helping to prevent, diagnose and treat one of the world’s deadliest infectious disease, tuberculosis, in Papua New Guinea. It helps vaccinate kids against myriad other deadly diseases across the Asia-Pacific. It helps get the 58 million children currently missing out on primary school into school and learning. And it helps families re-build their homes when disaster strikes.

How many of these programs will be left out in the cold because of this cut?

With the world facing so many challenges at the moment, and global trends towards nationalism and insularity, now isn’t the time to retreat and hide. Now is the time to stand out from the crowd, face those challenges head on, and make brave choices.

People like Mohammad deserve braver choices from Australia.

Leila Stennett is the Campaigns Director at RESULTS International (Australia) and a member of the Gavi CSO Steering Committee.

This campaign is backed by Australia's aid & development groups

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