World Polio Day, on October 24, is when the world comes together to celebrate the determination that has brought us 99% of the way to end polio, and reflects on the heights we must scale to fully defeat the disease.
This year, Africa was declared free from wild polio virus, a testimony to the extraordinary work of thousands of healthcare workers and their supporters over the decades.
Nonetheless, 2020 may be the toughest year polio eradication has ever faced. In the past eight months, the immunization service has taken a devastating blow. An estimate 80 million children under one year might miss a critical vaccine. Vaccine-preventable diseases – including polio – have spread in the most vulnerable contexts. This year, new outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio have been detected in the Eastern Mediterranean and African regions, including in Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan.
WHO is working with national governments to respond promptly to the outbreak and improve the immunization systems affected in the early months of the pandemic. In the context of significant budget shortages and increased costs of administering health interventions due to the pandemic, tackling outbreaks of polio and measles will require additional funding and immediate action.
Below, learn about the work of polio personnel around the world to administer polio vaccines and close the immunity gap, while continuing to fight COVID-19.
Nasrin Ahmadi, District Polio Officer in Afghanistan
“I choose to continue to raise public health awareness during the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to help save people’s lives and continue to serve my people, ”said Nasrin Ahmadi, a polio worker and volunteer for the COVID-19 response in Balkh province in Afghanistan.
Eight months since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Afghanistan, frontline polio workers have continued to support the outbreak response. During the pandemic, Nasrin has taken on the additional task of identifying suspected COVID-19 cases, sharing accurate information with the community, and tracking individuals returning from abroad to encourage them to isolate. During this time, he has continued to educate families about the importance of polio vaccination.
Mohamed Sharif Mohamed, Regional Polio Eradication Officer in Somalia
In addition to polio duties, Mohamed provided COVID-19 support to 17 districts in Banadir, Somalia through coordination and training of the COVID-19 team, conducting active surveillance visits to health facilities and reviewing reports submitted by district polio officers about the pandemic response.
In September, he took part in the first continued immunization campaign in Somalia since COVID-19 arrived in the country. All children participating in the campaign were given deworming and vitamin A tablets in addition to measles and polio vaccines. Providing a range of services is essential in the context of the ongoing polio and measles outbreaks in Somalia, and the overall low immunity of the population.
Dr Samreen Khalil, Polio Eradication Officer in Pakistan
Dr Samreen Khalil, WHO Polio Eradication Officer, collected samples from Muhammad Shabir at his residence to be tested for COVID-19 on 10 July 2020 in Peshawar, Pakistan. © WHO / Saiyna Bashir
Polio teams in Pakistan have been working to support the COVID-19 response since the start of the pandemic, as well as continuing their work to eradicate polio.
In Peshawar, the team has adapted the acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) surveillance network embedded in hospitals and health facilities to detect COVID-19 and polio. Polio staff such as Dr Samreen Khalil have helped with testing and have trained health workers on infection prevention and control. A nationwide polio data management system and a call center in the capital, Islamabad, are helping to deal with misinformation and helping detect suspected cases of COVID-19.
Watch this video to learn more about how the polio team is supporting Pakistan’s COVID-19 response.
The polio vaccination campaign continues in July 2020 in Angola. © WHO / Angola
Dr Sylvester Maleghemi, Leader of the Polio Team in South Sudan
In the African region, polio eradication programs have a long history of responding to outbreaks of other diseases and health emergencies. With unmatched technical expertise, disease surveillance and logistical capacity as well as an extensive community network, the polio team is perfectly positioned to mobilize a large-scale emergency response to COVID-19, while maintaining polio eradication efforts.
Dr Sylvester Maleghemi, Chair of the WHO Polio Team in South Sudan, explained, “Across Africa, polio infrastructure and staff are found in districts, provinces, down to the national level, so whenever there is an outbreak, the polio team is always the first to respond.”
As the pandemic develops, polio staff and resources around the world continue to tackle COVID-19, while encouraging the world to eradicate all forms of polio, close the immunity gap and contribute to universal health coverage.
Pakistan resumed polio vaccination activities on July 20 with campaigns in several districts following a four-month suspension of all polio vaccination activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The districts included in the first round are Faisalabad, Attock, South Waziristan, and parts of Karachi and Quetta with a target of vaccinating nearly 800,000 children under the age of five. © UNICEF / Pakistan
The tremendous support from the global donor community and the great efforts of health workers, parents, and local leaders have brought us 99% of the way to eradicate polio worldwide. On World Polio Day, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, of which WHO is its main partner, would like to thank all those who are dedicated to making a polio-free world.
to request modification Contact us at Here or [email protected]