Eradicating polio

We are closer than ever to ending polio.

A child receives the oral polio vaccine, Pakistan
UNICEF/UN0324716/Zaidi

Polio, the deadly viral disease that was once the leading cause of paralysis among children worldwide, is very close to being eradicated. Since 1988, the number of children affected by polio has reduced by 99 per cent – from 350,000 cases in 125 countries, to fewer than 100 cases today in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nigeria, the third polio endemic country, has gone three years without a wild polio virus case, and is on track with the African region to be certified free of the wild polio virus in 2020.

To eliminate polio completely, every child in every household must be vaccinated. But thousands of children are still missing out on the polio vaccine.

Many of these children live in remote, fragile and conflict-affected areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which makes reaching them with vaccines even more difficult. Massive migrant and refugee populations, discrepancies in quality of vaccination campaigns and misinformation about vaccines also hamper polio eradication efforts. 

The world is in the final stage of polio eradication. But pervasive challenges make this stage the most difficult yet.  

A boy raises a finger marked by a polio vaccinator, Afghanistan
UNICEF/UN0339995// Frank Dejongh
A child’s finger is marked after he is vaccinated against polio. Polio vaccinators went door to door in his neighbourhood of Kart-e-Naw, a suburb of Kabul, Afghanistan.

Solutions

As a spearheading partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), UNICEF helps vaccinate over 400 million children globally against polio every year. Our expertise lies in the supply of safe vaccines, and building trust and motivating parents to vaccinate their children against polio.


Vaccine supply

UNICEF manages the procurement and distribution of over 1 billion doses of polio vaccines annually, accounting for more than 50 per cent of global oral polio vaccines (OPV).

We work with vaccine manufacturers to procure OPV on behalf of national governments, GPEI and our programmes, to ensure adequate supplies and competitive prices for both routine immunization and vaccination campaigns.

UNICEF manages the procurement and distribution of over 1 billion doses of polio vaccines each year.

In addition to procuring OPV, UNICEF invests in vaccine supply chain infrastructure such as freezer rooms, refrigerators, cold boxes, vaccine carriers and temperature monitoring devices. We train health workers on how to manage the ‘cold chain’ to keep vaccines safe during transportation and storage. And our vaccine management system constantly monitors OPV stock levels, ensuring that vaccines are used before they expire, and that vaccine requirements are accurately forecasted so that stocks can be replenished.
 

Two women in conversation, Nigeria
UNICEF/UNI154105/Vilain
Aisha Ibrahim (left), speaks with a young mother about the dangers of polio. Aisha is one of the 20,000 UNICEF Volunteer Community Mobilizers in Kano state, Nigeria.
Community partnerships

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.

Resources

Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI)

GPEI is a public-private partnership led by national governments with five partners – the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide.


Polio Endgame Strategy 2019-2023

GPEI’s new strategy builds on proven strategies while introducing innovative solutions tailored to overcome the final challenges based on the situation and needs of communities.


Global Polio Eradication Initiative investment case 2019–2023

Learn why investing in polio eradication is critical to ensuring a healthier future for children, economies and societies.


GPEI Gender Equality strategy

This strategy document aims at addressing gender-related barriers to polio vaccination to increase coverage and increase women’s meaningful participation at all levels in polio eradication efforts.


PolioNews

A monthly newsletter that provides updates on the progress towards polio eradication.