Polio-affected areas are some of the most marginalized and underserved communities in the world, without access to essential services like water and health care. Targeted polio vaccination campaigns are sometimes the only services these communities receive. At times, this has led to mistrust and vaccination refusals from families, threatening global polio eradication.
Using Communication for Development (C4D) strategies, UNICEF leads efforts to increase acceptance and demand for the polio vaccine among parents and caregivers – the first critical step towards reaching and maintaining high polio vaccination coverage.
This systematic, planned and evidence-based process centres on community dialogue and participation. We work together with children, families and communities to promote healthy behaviours, build trust in vaccines, and motivate parents to vaccinate their children against polio.
Today, women make up 99 per cent of the polio work force in Nigeria, 68 per cent in Pakistan, and 34 per cent in Afghanistan.
UNICEF's trained locally-based polio workers and volunteers play a crucial role in reaching out to communities. They visit every household in their communities, answering questions, dispelling anti-vaccination rumours and encouraging mothers and fathers to immunize their children. They also encourage participation and support from local civic and religious leaders, and other influential personalities to promote vaccination in the community.
A key to the success of the C4D approach is using a mix of communication strategies to fit the social and cultural norms of the area. For example, in some communities where cultural norms prevent men from entering households, female community polio workers are in the frontlines, building community trust and reaching all children. Today, women make up 99 per cent of the polio work force in Nigeria, 68 per cent in Pakistan, and 34 per cent in Afghanistan.
In the highest-risk areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan, UNICEF recently launched an initiative to integrate health, nutrition, education, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services into its polio vaccination campaigns. This approach demonstrates the potential and importance of working jointly with other sectors and sharing and leveraging resources across these programmes.