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

The polio eradication programme is using technology in innovative ways to map the activities of polio workers on the ground, and ensure that expertise and support is getting to the areas where it is most needed.

More than 300 international consultants are deployed by the partners of the GPEI in some of the countries most vulnerable to polio. By strengthening surveillance, tracking the virus, identifying immunity gaps and supporting vaccination campaigns to fill them, these consultants provide an important boost to capacity in polio-affected or vulnerable countries. By using new technologies, the programme is mapping the activities of all consultants to capture the range of locations they travel to and the activities they carry out. These innovations ensure that countries receive the best support from these consultants, and that they are working where the need is greatest.

Survey 123

The introduction of this new technology means that each week, no matter where they are in the world, international consultants report on their activities using a smartphone application called Survey123. The report only takes a minute to complete, works offline and captures their location at the time of reporting. By answering questions on what activities and diseases they have been working on that week, this tool enables the GPEI to capture data in real-time and ensure international consultants are being efficiently deployed in high risk polio areas and being used to their greatest advantage.

In the below snapshot from the first week of October, reports from the consultants can be seen in Guinea, the Lake Chad region, Madagascar, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan – the areas that are most vulnerable to the virus.

From the 3 – 9 October, 242 out of 300 users completed an activity report using Survey 123, giving the programme essential information about their location and activities. Over 5000 reports were captured between February and September.

Getting people where they are most needed

Survey123 is also enabling the GPEI to identify changes in deployment over time. The recent notification of wild poliovirus in the Lake Chad region demonstrated the use of this clarity, by showing the movement of consultants into and around the Lake Chad region, despite insecurity and inaccessibility.

In depth analysis such as this provides greater clarity on what additional human resources are needed to respond to outbreaks or newly recognised risk areas, and indicates how rapidly GPEI resources can be used to fill important needs.

Following cases of polio being found in Nigeria in July 2016, Survey 123 was able to show the movement of international consultants into the affected areas to strengthen the response effort.
Following cases of polio being found in Nigeria in July 2016, Survey 123 was able to show the movement of international consultants into the affected areas to strengthen the response effort.

The broader benefits of polio eradication

Due to the scale of polio eradication activities even in the most remote and vulnerable areas to reach every last child, international consultants are sometimes present where other health infrastructure is weak. The capacity of the polio programme in these vulnerable areas is sometimes used to support other health initiatives, including improving routine immunisation, measles activities, communication for development and emergency response.

Analysing the collected reports from Survey 123 is giving us greater insight into the extent to which consultants are supporting other health programmes. The support provided to other health programmes shown in the map below highlights the continued benefits of the polio eradication infrastructure to other public health initiatives, giving the donors to the GPEI more bang for their buck when investing in polio eradication. The information gathered from this new technology is helping to inform transition planning efforts, providing information needed to country governments and GPEI partners as they look ahead to what should happen to the polio eradication infrastructure once the goal of a polio-free world has been achieved.

International consultants working on polio are also helping to support other health programmes. This map shows the amount of time in the different WHO Regions being spent on both polio and non-polio activities.
International consultants working on polio are also helping to support other health programmes. This map shows the amount of time in the different WHO Regions being spent on both polio and non-polio activities.


The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is highlighting the innovations that are helping to bring us closer to a polio-free world. Find out about other new approaches driving the polio eradication efforts by reading more in the Innovation Series.