Chasing polio away

With South Sudan being declared wild poliovirus free, the virus is eradicated from the continent

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
a child being immunized against polio
25 August 2020

South Sudan has joined the group of countries which can proudly say they are free of the wild poliovirus. Already in June 2018, the African Regional Certification Commission for poliomyelitis eradication (ARCC) accepted the complete documentation for South Sudan supporting the claim of being wild poliovirus free. 

A boy with polio
Deng Bol Marac, 12, stands on crutches outside his primary school in the town of Marial Bai in southern Sudan. He contracted polio, which has left him paralysed in one leg, at the age of three.

The last known case of indigenous wild poliovirus transmission in South Sudan occurred in June 2009. 

Becoming polio-free would not be possible without the polio vaccine, which was introduced in the 1950s.

A person filling in a tally sheet
A UNICEF immunization team member fills in a tally sheet indicating the number of children given vitamin A supplements along with their polio vaccination during a recent national immunization day in the village of Jiech in the Upper Nile region of southern Sudan.

The introduction of the vaccine in industrialized countries in the 1950s and 1950s, polio was brought under control in these countries but remained unaddressed in developing countries.

In 1985, Rotary INternational launced a global effort to immunize the world's children against polio

1988, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was established.

1998: Polio immunization efforts started in Sudan, which South Sudan was part of at that time

Read the entire story of ending polio

a girl showing her finger
Children at Sacret Heart Kindergarten in Juba is showing their "polio finger". Every child who has received the two polio drops get one of their fingers marked, indicated they have received the vaccine.

Since then, many children have received the protecting drops and had their fingers painted with ink.

But the fight is not over. The wild poliovirus can still be imported from endemic countries. Therefore, to continue to protect children's lives from the virus, continued immunization efforts are needed to maintain the herd immunity. Furthermore, the polio surveillance must be maintained till all countries in the world are declared free of the wild poliovirus.

Learn how we keep the vaccines cool

A boy being immunized
Given, is given the oral polio vaccine by nurse Lillian Nimaya. On 24 March 2020, Hadia Steven, 19, has taken her three-month-old son, Given Simon, to the Nyakuron primary health care centre (PHCC) in South Sudan’s capital Juba for the polio and penta vaccine. Given is Hadia’s first child and she received information about immunization when she went to the health centre for check-ups. “I have done all my antenatal checks here, and also after my son was born, this is when they told me that I should come here for vaccination.”

Getting to the wild poliofree status is, hands down, a true team effort. Rotary and Gavi have been instrumental in making this happening and we know many governments and individuals have donated to these organizations. WHO has been UNICEF's main partner within the UN.

But most of all, we are grateful to the many health workers and vaccinators who have walked long distances under difficult conditions to immunize children.

A vaccinator smiling
Vaccinator Ludia Keji has vaccinated children in South Sudan for 15 years. She took part in the first of many polio vaccination campaigns in 2019 in South Sudan