Fighting poliomyelitis, drop by drop

Thousands of unsung heroes are striving to completely eradicate poliomyelitis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Une fille se fait vacciner contre la poliomyélite
24 October 2021

The 24 October World Polio Day is an occasion to salute the work of the mobilisers and vaccinators who play a decisive role in protecting children from this extremely infectious disease. They visit homes in their community, answer questions, dispel rumours about the vaccination and encourage mothers and fathers to get their children vaccinated.

Des vaccinateurs volontaires photographiés de dos
Volunteer vaccinators trudge the alleys of the Loma neighbourhood in Mbanza Ngungu, Kongo-Central province.

Poliomyelitis is a contagious and potentially deadly disease that threatens many children around the world. It is caused by a virus which invades the nervous system and can lead to irreversible paralysis in a few hours. It is incurable but can be easily prevented with a vaccination. Richard Elaka became a victim of poliomyelitis when he lost the use of his legs at age 7.

Un survivant de la poliomyélite se tient sur des béquilles devant un grand portail
Community outreach worker Richard Elaka during a vaccination campaign against poliomyelitis in Kinshasa.

His family always said his paralysis was due to witchcraft. "It was much later that I learned that my disability was not due to witchcraft but it was because I hadn't been vaccinated", explained Richard. Since becoming a community outreach worker, Richard works the streets of Kinshasa to educate parents about the importance of getting vaccinated by telling his story.

UNICEF provided support for the vaccination of close to 6 million children in the Kinshasa provinces of Maï-Ndombe, Tshopo, Equateur, Tshuapa, Mongala, Nord-Ubangi and Sud-Ubangi between October 2020 and April 2021.

Un relais communautaire traverse un cours d'eau
A community outreach worker crosses a stream to go vaccinate children in Manono, Tanganyika province.

Africa was declared free of the wild poliovirus in 2020, but another type of virus, present in under-vaccinated communities, continues to spread in areas of poor hygiene. In order to completely eradicate this disease, every child in every family must be vaccinated.

Every child – no matter where, and whatever the situation or circumstance – is to be immunised - but in addition to the disruption of vaccination campaigns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many children are living in regions that are isolated, unstable and beset by conflicts.

Des vaccinateurs entourés d'enfants dans un camp de personnes déplacées
Vaccinators go from door to door in a camp for displaced persons in North-Kivu province.

New campaigns spearheaded by WHO, USAID, Rotary International, CDC, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) will take place next year to cover the country's 26 provinces. UNICEF is assisting the Congolese government with the purchase and roll-out of the vaccine, cold-chain upgrading, as well as social mobilization and community engagement activities. Special measures are being put in place to protect the children, families and the teams deployed in COVID-19 areas.