|In Kenya, a girl toddler held by her mother receives a dose of oral polio vaccine at a vaccination site in Kibera.|
For most people in the industrialized world, vaccines have made polio a thing of the past along with polio-wards, ‘iron lungs,’ paralyzed limbs and death. But before Jonas Salk invented a vaccine in 1955, this highly contagious viral infection of the nervous system paralyzed or killed half a million people every year at its peak.
At present there are six remaining polio-afflicted countries - India, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Niger and Nigeria. This year on 15, January 2004 ministers from these countries, along with UNICEF and the World Health Organization, are launching an initiative for a final countdown to a polio-free world through plans to intensify polio immunization activities. Today polio is more geographically restricted than ever before in history; less than approximately 650 cases remain worldwide but it is critical that the virus be eradicated in full.
UNICEF plays numerous roles in the global effort: supplying and delivering vaccines, providing logistical support, maintaining the cold chain, and educating health workers. UNICEF also works to promote and coordinate ‘National Immunization Days.’ These mass immunizations are a critical tool in the eradication effort because many children in the remaining polio-endemic countries have no access to routine immunization services.