Eradicating Polio


© UNICEF/Sudan/Noorani
As a woman holds her child in her lap, a female health worker vaccinates her child against polio at Qarar Ibn-e-Al Khatab Basic Health Centre in Port Sudan, Sudan.

Polio (poliomyelitis) is a highly infectious, viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Frequently, its victims display no symptoms, but about one in 200 infected children suffers from paralysis and sometimes death. Anyone can contract the disease, but children under five years of age are the most vulnerable. Timely immunization with the oral polio vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection.

In 1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a partnership among UNICEF, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), spearheaded an effort to support country governments to immunize all children against polio in order to halt transmission and free the world of polio.

Thanks in large part to the GPEI, and to an equity-focused agenda that addresses the most underserved communities, polio no longer exists in most of the world today, and the goal of eradication is within reach. Persistent efforts led by the GPEI to immunize children through mass campaigns, known as National Immunization Days (NIDs), have been highly successful to date. However, the ultimate goal of eradication is still to be achieved. In 2013 GPEI launched the Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan to achieve a polio-free world by 2018. The comprehensive, six-year plan advances eradication on multiple fronts, including stopping transmission, expanding focus to improve childhood immunization and protecting public health gains made to-date. A fully funded Strategic Plan will enable the GPEI to sustain the intense response activities needed to contain and end polio. In April 2013, global leaders and philanthropists pledged $4 billion toward the $5.5 billion needed to fund the Strategic Plan through 2018.

Polio remains active in 10 countries, primarily among the most disadvantaged, remote and conflict-affected populations for whom its continued existence remains a dangerous threat. Nevertheless, polio “reservoirs,” where the disease remains active, are generally isolated within specific geographic areas and among known populations. Today, only three countries have endemic polio transmission – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In February 2012, India was removed from the WHO list of endemic countries.

With renewed energy and focus, health experts from UNICEF, its partner organizations and governments are working against the clock to stop transmission in the remaining countries in order to rid the world of polio forever.



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