A mother helps to reduce outbreak risk by allowing her child to be immunized. © WHO
A mother helps to reduce outbreak risk by allowing her child to be immunized. © WHO

“I was told that if the child was vaccinated against polio, he could one day become a great footballer like Drogba and Yaya Toure…Today, they have not yet become like Drogba and Yaya, but they are in good health.”

– Awa B., mother of five children, Côte d’Ivoire

Today, the countries most vulnerable to poliovirus outbreaks are those where the barriers to effective immunization are most acute. In high-risk countries like the Central African Republic and Côte d’Ivoire, populations are hard to access and persuading communities of the need to vaccinate can be difficult.

For polio workers in these countries, it is important to reduce outbreak risk through strategies that involve local people, and which are receptive to the local surroundings and culture. Not every child will grow up to be a champion footballer, but by persuading parents of the importance of immunization, they can grow up active and healthy, protected from the debilitating effects of polio.

The risk of polio outbreak

The Central African Republic and Côte d’Ivoire are both considered outbreak risk countries due to their difficult political and security situations, weak health-care systems, and regular cross-border population movement.

Geographically close to Nigeria, one of the last three polio endemic countries, the Central African Republic is currently at risk of virus spread from Borno state where there was a poliovirus outbreak in 2016. In 2011, Côte d’Ivoire experienced an outbreak of wild poliovirus type 3, also originating from Nigeria.

A child is vaccinated against polio in the Central African Republic. November 2017 © UNICEF CAR
A child is vaccinated against polio in the Central African Republic. November 2017 © UNICEF CAR

Outbreak prevention is a central part of the strategy to end polio, as the spread of the poliovirus through under-immunized populations could make eradication more of a challenge. In high risk countries where delivering vaccine can be difficult, different methods must be used to comprehensively immunize every last child.

Getting the local community involved

In Côte d’Ivoire, a round of National Polio Vaccination Days officially began on October 28th in Ebimpé, marked by a ceremonial gathering of vaccination partners alongside key members of the local community. Speaking at the event, the Minister of Health and Public Hygiene, Dr Raymonde Goudou Coffie, described the need to vaccinate every last child as a mission for everyone: “Traditional leaders, heads of households and communities need to be involved in this initiative.”

This is a powerful method of engagement – making sure that parents and local leaders, as well as health workers and volunteer vaccinators, are involved in the fight against poliovirus.

No one approach fits all

Vaccinators also understand that no single approach will fit every situation. Instead, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative partners and field workers must work hard to understand how best to communicate the risk of polio outbreaks to different communities.

For instance, to reach parents working in Nana Mambere prefecture of the Central African Republic, local radio station SIRIRI hosted a panel based radio discussion to mark the recent vaccination campaign. Featuring medical professionals and local politicians, the panel addressed community worries around vaccine, urging every parent listening to take their young children to be immunized.

The day before the October campaign in Côte d’Ivoire, an advance team of volunteer vaccinators in Grand-Bassam began vaccinating at the local weekly market. Knowing the routine of local women, they anticipated that there would be some children visiting the market with their mothers who might not be reached later in the week – making this gathering of the community too good an opportunity to miss.

Health workers mobilize communities in Côte d’Ivoire, September 2017. © Rotary International
Health workers mobilize communities in Côte d’Ivoire. September 2017 © Rotary International

Having an understanding of the communities targeted in campaigns, whether of their worries around vaccination, or even parents’ weekly schedules, is crucial to effectively reduce the risk of a polio outbreak.

Providing broader benefits

In Côte d’Ivoire, Dr Bamba Souleymane, Departmental Director of Health in Grand-Bassam, noted the quantity of different health interventions that his team was attempting to successfully deliver. Alongside the polio vaccine, the volunteers were distributing impregnated mosquito nets, de-worming medication, and vitamins.

Such combined efforts use the GPEI’s well-established infrastructure to deliver a variety of desirable health benefits in communities, not polio vaccine alone. In places where the health infrastructure can be weak, the polio programme’s ability to reach remote children can be a big advantage for many reasons.

For Awa, the dream of her son becoming a champion footballer was a persuasive reason to take him to be vaccinated. For others, receiving different health benefits or hearing information via radio are compelling reasons to vaccinate their children.

Lowering the chance of an outbreak is never a straightforward process, but instead requires understanding parents, children, and communities.

The best vaccinators and campaign planners are able to spot opportunities to keep campaigns relevant, access groups in different ways, and ensure that coverage is sustained.

This way, we can successfully protect every last child.


A child in west Africa receives polio vaccine. Photo: WHO.

More than 190 000 polio vaccinators in 13 countries across west and central Africa will immunize over 116 million children over the next week, to tackle the last remaining stronghold of polio on the continent.

The synchronized vaccination campaign, one of the largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa, is part of urgent measures to permanently stop polio on the continent.  All children under five years of age in the 13 countries – Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone – will be simultaneously immunized in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio across the continent. In August 2016, four children were paralysed by the disease in security-compromised areas in Borno state, north-eastern Nigeria, widely considered to be the only place on the continent where the virus maintains its grip.

“Twenty years ago, Nelson Mandela launched the pan-African ‘Kick Polio Out of Africa’ campaign,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.  “At that time, every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75 000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease.  Thanks to the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, this disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir.”

Dr Moeti cautioned, however, that progress was fragile, given the epidemic-prone nature of the virus.  Although confined to a comparatively small region of the continent, experts warned that the virus could easily spread to under-protected areas of neighbouring countries. That is why regional public health ministers from five Lake Chad Basin countries – Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Nigeria – declared the outbreak a regional public health emergency and have committed to multiple synchronized immunization campaigns.

UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Ms Marie-Pierre Poirier, stated that with the strong commitment of Africa’s leaders, there was confidence that this last remaining polio reservoir could be wiped out, hereby protecting all future generations of African children from the crippling effects of this disease once and for all. “Polio eradication will be an unparalleled victory, which will not only save all future generations of children from the grip of a disease that is entirely preventable – but will show the world what Africa can do when it unites behind a common goal.”

To stop the potentially dangerous spread of the disease as soon as possible, volunteers will deliver bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) to every house across all cities, towns and villages of the 13 countries.  To succeed, this army of volunteers and health workers will work up to 12 hours per day, travelling on foot or bicycle, in often stifling humidity and temperatures in excess of 40°C.  Each vaccination team will carry the vaccine in special carrier bags, filled with ice packs to ensure the vaccine remains below the required 8°C.

“This extraordinary coordinated response is precisely what is needed to stop this polio outbreak,” said Michael K McGovern, Chair of Rotary’s International PolioPlus Committee .  “Every aspect of civil society in these African countries is coming together, every community, every parent and every community leader, to achieve one common goal: to protect their children from life-long paralysis caused by this deadly disease.”

The full engagement of political and community leaders at every level – right down to the district – is considered critical to the success of the campaign.  It is only through the full participation of this leadership that all sectors of civil society are mobilized to ensure every child is reached.

More information

Children in Equatorial Guinea proudly show the dot of ink on their finger that demonstrates they have received a dose of oral polio vaccine.
Children in Equatorial Guinea proudly show the dot of ink on their finger that demonstrates they have received a dose of oral polio vaccine. ©UNICEF/Equatorial Guinea

This week, 18 countries across western and central Africa have been holding synchronised polio immunization campaigns to reach nearly 94 million children with oral polio vaccine (OPV). This is a monumental coordination effort, incorporating strong governmental commitment, global support from international organisations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF and the motivation of members of communities themselves to mobilize their friends and neighbours to ensure every child is protected.

National Immunization Days in Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo and Senegal are working to build immunity across western and central Africa. Each child needs at least 3 doses of OPV to build immunity and end the transmission of the virus, making it crucial that campaigns such as this reach every child.

Africa is closer than ever before to achieving eradication, with only 22 cases across the continent to date in 2014 compared to 232 by the same point in 2013. This decrease of over 90% in one year is due to increased commitment from the governments of the last remaining endemic country in Africa, Nigeria, and the sites of current outbreaks in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Nigeria saw only 6 cases in 2014 compared to 53 in 2013 by this date. This dramatic improvement can be attributed to measures put in place to avoid missing children from campaigns, and to a surge in staff to the country to support Emergency Operations Centres. The international spread of polio, affecting Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia and Ethiopia as well as countries in the Middle East, lead to the declaration of polio as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in May 2014 by the Director General of the World Health Organization. With temporary recommendations to stop the international spread of polio, the PHEIC is another step towards ensuring a polio-free Africa.

Through these measures – improved surveillance, innovative community engagement strategies and a surge in staff to affected areas – the past year has seen gains in the eradication effort that must be protected. Synchronized campaigns such as this bring us ever closer to the important milestone of ending transmission in Africa.
These synchronised campaigns demonstrate the commitment of the governments of countries across central and western Africa to ending the transmission of polio once and for all, despite the increased focus on Ebola prevention and response in 2014. In some cases, polio resources are being utilized to strengthen the Ebola response, demonstrating the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s commitment to securing the polio infrastructure for a polio-free world.


West and Central Africa Polio Campaign Enters Decisive Phase

Every last child must be reached WHO/C. Lamoureux

Brazzaville/Dakar, 21 March 2012 — Health Ministries, UN agencies and communities are uniting with tens of thousands of volunteer immunizers over four days to go door-to-door and hut to hut for a vaccination campaign against polio in 20 African countries starting on 23 March.

The vaccination campaigns are critical to protect children before the ‘high season’ for polio, which starts in the northern hemisphere summer. Due to insufficient funding, the polio eradication initiative is scaling back campaigns planned from March to July in over 20 countries. Many of these countries remain therefore vulnerable to polio outbreaks. The reduction in vaccination activities leaves the eradication effort with a funding shortfall of US$405 million for 2012.

Across West and Central Africa, over 111.1 million children below the age of five are expected to be vaccinated through this campaign. Nigeria, the only polio endemic country in Africa, aims to get two drops of the oral vaccine into the mouths of 57.7 million children. Nineteen other countries, which are at risk of re-infection, are stepping up efforts to reach nearly 53.3 million children.

This gigantic exercise represents a dramatic effort of will by governments and partners, and relies on hundreds of thousands of health workers and volunteers who will be administering the drops to all children under the age of five, irrespective of their previous immunization status.

Full story


The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has issued an appeal for US$ 10.5 million to respond to an outbreak of polio in Côte d’Ivoire, where three children have been paralysed by wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3) since January. This is the first WPV3 found in Côte d’Ivoire since 1999 (the country was affected in 2008-2009 by the west Africa wild poliovirus type 1 – WPV1 – outbreak). Given that WPV3 paralyses approximately one in 2,000 people infected, these cases represent a much larger number of infections.

US$ 10.5 million is needed to rapidly stop the outbreak and ensure that surveillance is sensitive enough to detect any more virus. Planning is underway to ensure capacity (i.e. technical, vaccine, operational) is in place to launch an emergency response at the earliest possible date. A rapid assessment is being carried out in the southwest of the country, and in Liberia, to determine access in particular to displaced populations. The World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating – together with its Regional Office for Africa – with the humanitarian response units currently supporting activities in Côte d’Ivoire, other UN agencies and NGOs operating in Côte d’Ivoire and neighbouring countries (in particular Liberia, which may be receiving large numbers of displaced populations), to ensure oral polio vaccine (OPV) is added to any planned immunization activities.

As soon as the security situation allows, three full National Immunization Days will be carried out in rapid succession, using a combination of bivalent OPV and monovalent OPV type 3. Ongoing transmission will be monitored, and mop-ups implemented as epidemiology dictates. A series of urgent measures to strengthen sub-national surveillance are in planning.

Genetic sequencing of the viruses isolated in Côte d’Ivoire show that they are linked to WPV3 last detected in mid-2008 in northern Nigeria. Since 2000, WPV3 has not been recorded in this part of west Africa. Globally, WPV3 transmission is at its lowest level in history, with only five cases reported worldwide in 2011: rapidly interrupting all remaining chains of WPV3 transmission is a key priority for the global polio eradication effort. Detection of these cases linked to 2008 circulation is a stark reminder that weak sub-national surveillance is a real risk to the global polio eradication effort.

Please see the full appeal (PDF) for details. Version française (PDF).

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