Staying strong in the fight against polio
COVID-19 will not deter our efforts to provide life-saving vaccines.
Polio remains an urgent global challenge and one that has been complicated this year by COVID-19. We are close to achieving eradication: 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 200 cases today in just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. UNICEF celebrates the efforts of hundreds of thousands of health workers and community members globally who are rising above the challenge to protect children and families from the coronavirus, while striving to safely resume polio vaccination campaigns and immunization activities.
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo – Richard Elaka, 60, is a polio survivor in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was infected with polio at the age of 7 and has been moving around on crutches ever since. For more than 20 years, Richard has been a community outreach worker, walking the streets of his community to speak with mothers and fathers about the importance of vaccination and sharing his own story. "I realized that many families don't get their children vaccinated because of a lack of knowledge," he explains.
Richard continues promoting immunizations for children as his country safely resumes polio vaccination campaigns and activities after a pause of several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Islamabad, Pakistan – Sadia Saleem, 24, responds to as many as 150 calls a day, providing vital information about the COVID-19 pandemic to concerned parents and caregivers. She works at the National Polio Emergency Operation Centre in Islamabad, Pakistan, which the Government has expanded to serve as the National COVID-19 Helpline. The helpline is currently managed by 250 call agents and 16 doctors, and receives over 70,000 phone calls daily.
Ashanti Region, Ghana – A polio vaccination team shares a lighter moment with a UNICEF photographer on their way back from a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign in Kumasi City, Ashanti Region. After a pause of nearly six months, Ghana is one of several countries in Africa that have been successful in safely resuming polio immunization campaigns following COVID-19 safety measures. In March, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative recommended that countries pause polio campaign activities to prevent further spread of coronavirus.
Kandahar, Afghanistan – Polio community worker Ruksar (left) and her colleague talk to a mother on the importance of handwashing to protect her children from COVID-19. Over 3,500 polio community workers in southern and eastern Afghanistan are reaching out to parents and caregivers, distributing soap bars, promoting handwashing and physical distancing, and supporting the delivery of vaccines and other basic health services for children and families.
Peshawar, Pakistan – Sami and Umar, friends from Peshawar, Pakistan, view COVID-19 messages on their mobile. Polio community workers are adapting to physical distancing and using WhatsApp to promote healthy behaviours during the lockdown. They also partner with community mobilizers, media, religious clerics, traditional leaders and civil society to promote hygiene practices and physical distancing, and to distribute soaps and report cases to surveillance channels.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Amen Samuel, 3, and Blen Samuel, 5, receive the polio vaccine from Mekdes Eyasu, 23, a health worker in Addis Ababa. Mekdes vaccinated around 250 children daily during the recently held polio vaccination campaign in Ethiopia, which targeted 7 million children under five years of age.
Caracas, Venezuela – Mariangel García was vaccinated against polio during a vaccination day supported by UNICEF in the Catia community, located in Caracas, Venezuela. UNICEF supports immunization programmes and campaigns in Venezuela through vaccine procurement and technical assistance.
Lahore, Pakistan – A young girl shows her marked finger after receiving the polio vaccine in Lahore, Pakistan. The country’s first national polio vaccination campaign after a six-month pause due to COVID-19 reached over 39 million children under five years of age. More than 260,000 trained frontline workers went door to door, equipped with personal protective gear to ensure the safety of children, caregivers and polio workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mogadishu, Somalia – Sudents trained in social work go door to door, providing vital information to protect children and their families from COVID-19. The students also offer counselling and referrals to health, social and legal services.
Kandahar, Afghanistan – A one-year old child receives the polio vaccine in the Spin Boldak District of Kandahar Province during a September vaccination campaign that targeted more than 6 million children under five years of age.
Over 3,500 polio community workers in Afghanistan continued reaching out to families, promoting handwashing and physical distancing, and distributing soap while supporting the safe resumption of polio campaigns, immunization activities and basic health services.
Ghana – Nine-year-old Christabel Owusu-Ampofo helped a vaccination team find and vaccinate unimmunized children during the recent national polio vaccination campaign in Ghana. Christabel approached a vaccination monitoring team and reported that there were a number of children nearby who had not been vaccinated. She confidently led the team through the market, across makeshift bridges and open drains to a house where the team discovered five children who had not been immunized against the polio virus.
Hats off to this young vaccine champion!