We are closer than ever to ending polio, but outbreaks and challenges persist.
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.
UNICEF helps vaccinate over 400 million children globally against polio every year.
To eliminate polio completely, every child in every household must be vaccinated. But thousands of children are still missing out on the polio vaccine.
In addition to interruptions of vaccination campaigns and immunization activities by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these children live in remote, fragile and conflict-affected areas, 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 decline in childhood immunization coverage globally has resulted in increasing outbreaks of polio, emerging in some countries that have remained polio-free for decades. The global spread of polio is a stark reminder that until all forms of polio are gone, children in every country remain at risk.
The world is in the final stage of polio eradication. But pervasive challenges make this stage the most difficult yet.
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. Working across 190 countries, in some of the world’s toughest places to reach the most disadvantaged children, no other organization is better placed to lead the global fight to eradicate polio.
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.
Polio outbreaks are often the result of weak health systems and low immunization coverage. When an outbreak occurs, UNICEF leads high-quality, large-scale immunization campaigns to boost immunity and effectively stop the spread of the disease. Through the deployment of rapid response teams, we’re on the ground supplying and distributing polio vaccines, and managing vaccine misinformation. Additionally, when responding to outbreaks, we work to ensure the support and commitment of governments and partners, in addition to helping nations plan budgets and resources.
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 Social and Behaviour Change (SBC) 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.
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 SBC 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.
In the highest-risk areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan and several polio outbreak countries in Africa, UNICEF and its partners are integrating health, nutrition, education, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services into polio vaccination campaigns. This approach demonstrates the potential and importance of sharing resources across sectors for polio eradication and the overall health and wellbeing of vulnerable children.