Ten million childhood disabilities prevented in campaign to end polio – UNICEF

ADDIS ABABA/NEW YORK, 23 October – Every day, a thousand or so children have been protected from disability during a 26-year global effort to eradicate polio.  The worldwide campaign has immunised millions of previously-unreached children across the globe, UNICEF said on the eve of World Polio Day.

A child gets a mark after polio vaccination
Ayan Hassan marks a child after polio vaccination. Warder, Somali region, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Some 10 million people today would otherwise have been paralysed, while an additional 1.5 million lives have been saved through the routine administration of Vitamin A during polio vaccination drives.

The annual number of polio cases has fallen from 350,000 in 1988, to 416 in 2013, and 243 so far this year – an extraordinary drop of more than 99 percentAll but three countries where polio was firmly entrenched – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – have eliminated the virus within their borders. And multiple outbreaks have been contained over the past 26 years.

“In 1988 polio was a leading cause of childhood disability,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In country after country since then, a generation of children has grown up without the spectre of polio.”

“The success of the eradication effort – reaching some of the most disadvantaged communities in some of the most dangerous circumstances – proves that it is possible to reach all children,” Lake added. “Our most ambitious and audacious goals for children can be met. And if they can be, they must be.”

In Ethiopia, despite significant progress made in polio eradication since the launch of the initiative in 1988, the wild poliovirus (WPV) continues to infect people, causing life-long paralysis and disability, which can only be prevented through vaccination. The Horn of Africa was struck with a polio outbreak in April 2013. To date, 223 cases of WPV1 have been confirmed in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia to date. The date of onset of the last case confirmed in Somalia was in August 2014, indicating ongoing circulation of WPV in the region. Up until 2013, Ethiopia was polio-free since 2008. However, since last year, Ethiopia has confirmed 10 cases of polio – a tragic setback for the country and for the families and children affected.

Legs of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case in Degafur rural village
Legs of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case in Degafur rural village, Somali region of Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

 Rotary International, a lead in the global polio eradication initiative, has contributed more than US$1.3 billion to eradication efforts globally to date. A new campaign promises that every dollar donated to Rotary will be matched 2-to-1 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Rotary has announced a US$44.7 million grant to fight polio in Africa, Asia and the Middle East on 21st October this year and Ethiopia will receive US$ 2 million for polio eradication efforts in the country.

”Rotary International’s commitment to polio eradication has been instrumental in the swift and robust outbreak response in Ethiopia,” said Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting Representative, UNICEF Ethiopia. “As partners in the fight against polio, we remain resolved to ensure no child is left unimmunized. Every child deserves the basic human right to health and we thank Rotary for their unwavering commitment in this endeavour.”

Nigeria has had only 6 cases this year, down from 49 in 2013. Afghanistan has reduced transmission to very low levels, with most cases linked to Pakistan.  With 206 cases already reported this year, Pakistan is now the world’s largest remaining reservoir of polio.

While polio remains endemic in only three countries, it continues to pose a risk to children everywhere, especially in countries which have not made routine immunization a priority, like South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ukraine. Outbreaks in Syria, Iraq, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia can be traced to Pakistan and Nigeria.  

UNICEF procures 1.7 billion doses of oral polio vaccine to reach 500 million children every year. And UNICEF’s social mobilisation work helps persuade families to accept the vaccine when it reaches them.  Intensive efforts over the past decade have seen acceptance of the polio vaccine at their highest levels ever in countries where polio remains endemic.

 “The world has never been closer to this once-in-a-generation opportunity of eradicating polio for good,” Lake said. “Every child deserves to live in a polio-free world.”

In Ethiopia, Nationwide Polio Vaccination Campaign Reaches 13 Million Children

Sahro Ahmed vaccinates a child
Sahro Ahmed vaccinates a child in Warder, Somali region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Somali Region, Ethiopia, 12 May, 2014 – Ethiopia kicked off a polio vaccination campaign on 3 October 2013, targeting 13 million children across the country following an emergency response that began in the Dollo Ado refugee camps in June 2013. In July 2013, Ethiopia Reports First Wild Poliovirus Case since 2008.

Ayan Yasin, a four-year-old girl, was one of the first confirmed polio cases in Ethiopia. Ayan lives with her father and mother, a typical pastoralist family, in their house, made of tin, wood and woven bed sheets in a remote secluded area three kilometres from Geladi Woreda in Ethiopia’s Somali Region. Living next to the Somalia border means that the family move frequently between Ethiopia and Somalia – making routine immunisation practices difficult.

When Ayan fell sick, her father took her to the nearest hospital in Somalia where he was told there was very little hope. After many visits to various health posts, Hergeisa Hospital finally confirmed she had Polio. “We call this illness the disease of the wind. We know that there is no cure for it, and that it can paralyse and even cause death. My daughter hasn’t died but it has disabled her forever,” says her father.

Close to 50,000 health workers and volunteers and 16,000 social mobilisers have been deployed all over the country as part of a campaign that includes remote and hard to access areas. With the support of the Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi, UAE, UNICEF has procured vaccines to support immunisation efforts particularly for children and the refugee population being hosted in the Somali Region. In total, 135,000 vials or 2.7 million doses of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) were procured to immunise 2.43 million children with a polio vaccine – a critical input to immunisation activities in the Somali Region and Polio high-risk areas. The support from the Crown Prince Court has also helped to airlift the Polio vaccine to hard-to-reach zones of Afder, Gode and Dollo in the Somali Region.

Synchronised cross-border polio outbreak preparedness and response

Parents of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case in Degafur rural village
Parents of Ayan Yasin Confirmed Wild Polio Virus (WPV-1) case, lives in a border close to Somalia, in Degafur rural village, Somali region of Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) were conducted in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti to accelerate progress towards ending Polio in the Horn of Africa. The synchronised SIAs were an outcome of the Horn of Africa Countries Cross-Border Polio Outbreak Preparedness and Response Meeting in Jigjiga, from 21 to 23 May 2014, where Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti agreed to strengthen cross-border collaboration to eradicate polio from the Horn of Africa.

To reinforce support and strengthen Polio eradication efforts in the Somali Region, a high-level delegation consisting of Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health, Mr Abdufatah Mohammed Hassen, Vice President of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State and Head of the Somali Regional Health Bureau, Dr Pierre M’Pele-Kilebou, WHO Representative to Ethiopia, and Dr Willis Ogutu, Head of UNICEF programme in Somali Region, visited Warder in Dollo Zone, the epicentre of the wild polio virus outbreak in Ethiopia, on 14 June 2014. The delegation, together with the Warder Zonal Administration, launched the ninth round of Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) in the outbreak zone and formally inaugurated the Zonal Polio Outbreak Command Post, which had been established in April 2014 to improve coordination of response activities.

Sustained interventions to ensure long-term success

While the campaigns to vaccinate children against Polio in the Somali Region have been going well, ensuring long-term success in eliminating the disease will require sustained interventions.

Abdufatah Mohammud Hassen believes the best solution is to immunise every child and ramp up routine immunisation activities in the region. “The campaigns are just to stop the emergency but the main thing that we are doing is to reach every child by strengthening the routine EPI and ensuring that the health facilities have the capacity to respond to the demands of the public”

With the help of developing partners like the Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Rotary International European Commission of Humanitarian Department (ECHO) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Health is continuing its efforts so that young children like Ayan Yasin living in the region are protected from the disabling symptoms of the Polio disease.

In Ethiopia, Nationwide Polio Vaccination Campaign Reaches 13 Million Children

Somali Region, Ethiopia, 12 May, 2014 – Ethiopia kicked off a polio vaccination campaign on 3 October 2013, targeting 13 million children across the country following an emergency response that began in the Dollo Ado refugee camps in June 2013.

In July 2013, Ethiopia Reports First Wild Poliovirus Case Since 2008.

Ayan Yasin, a four-year-old girl, was one of the first confirmed polio cases in Ethiopia. Ayan lives with her father and mother, a typical pastoralist family, in their house, made of tin, wood and woven bed sheets in a remote secluded area three kilometers from Geladi Woreda in Ethiopia’s Somali Region. Living next to the Somalia border means that the family move frequently between Ethiopia and Somalia – making routine immunisation practices difficult.

When Ayan fell sick, her father took her to the nearest hospital in Somalia where he was told there was very little hope. After many visits to various health posts, Hergeisa Hospital finally confirmed she had Polio. “We call this illness the disease of the wind. We know that there is no cure for it, and that it can paralyse and even cause death. My daughter hasn’t died but it has disabled her forever,” says her father.

Polio vaccines arrive in Warder
Bukhari Shiekh Aden of UNICEF helps in moving polio vaccines of an airplane which just arrived in Warder district, Somali region of Ethiopia for a campaign as a response of a recent polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Close to 50,000 health workers and volunteers and 16,000 social mobilisers have been deployed all over the country as part of a campaign that includes remote and hard to access areas. With the support of the European Commission- Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), UNICEF has procured vaccines to support immunisation efforts particularly for children and the refugee population being hosted in the Somali Region. In total, 135,000 vials or 2.7 million doses of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) were procured to immunise 2.43 million children with a polio vaccine – a critical input to immunisation activities in the Somali Region and Polio high-risk areas. The support from ECHO has also helped to airlift the Polio vaccine to hard-to-reach zones of Afder, Gode and Dollo in the Somali Region.

Synchronised cross-border polio outbreak preparedness and response

Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) were conducted in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti to accelerate progress towards ending Polio in the Horn of Africa. The synchronised SIAs were an outcome of the Horn of Africa Countries Cross-Border Polio Outbreak Preparedness and Response Meeting in Jigjiga, from 21 to 23 May 2014, where Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti agreed to strengthen cross-border collaboration to eradicate polio from the Horn of Africa.

To reinforce support and strengthen Polio eradication efforts in the Somali Region, a high-level delegation consisting of Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health, Mr Abdufatah Mohammed Hassen, Vice President of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State and Head of the Somali Regional Health Bureau, Dr Pierre M’Pele-Kilebou, WHO Representative to Ethiopia, and Dr Willis Ogutu, Head of UNICEF programme in Somali Region, visited Warder in Dollo Zone, the epicentre of the wild polio virus outbreak in Ethiopia, on 14 June 2014. The delegation, together with the Warder Zonal Administration, launched the ninth round of Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) in the outbreak zone and formally inaugurated the Zonal Polio Outbreak Command Post, which had been established in April 2014 to improve coordination of response activities.

Polio vaccination in the Somali region of Ethiopia, as a response of a recent polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa
Polio vaccination in the Somali region of Ethiopia, as a response of a recent polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

Sustained interventions to ensure long-term success

While the campaigns to vaccinate children against Polio in the Somali Region have been going well, ensuring long-term success in eliminating the disease will require sustained interventions.

Abdufatah Mohammud Hassen believes the best solution is to immunise every child and ramp up routine immunisation activities in the region. “The campaigns are just to stop the emergency but the main thing that we are doing is to reach every child by strengthening the routine EPI and ensuring that the health facilities have the capacity to respond to the demands of the public”

With the help of developing partners like ECHO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rotary International and the Crown Prince of Dubai, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Health is continuing its efforts so that young children like Ayan Yasin living in the region are protected from the disabling symptoms of the Polio disease.

Eager for the polio vaccine in Ethiopia

Rotary Voices

By John Adams, a member of the Rotary Club of Somerset-Pulaski County, Kentucky, USA

A mother seeks the polio vaccine for her child during immunization activities in southern Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of John Adams

At first, I thought the pull on my volunteer’s vest was one of the 50 or so village children who were following us, touching me to see if I was indeed real, because I was so different from them. But this was more than a child’s curious touch; it was a pull that caused me to lose my balance.

I turned in the direction of the pull to find it was not a playful child; but a determined mother, holding an infant. I will never forget her expression. I had no idea what she said in her dialect of Amharic or the local tribal language, but I knew exactly what she wanted.

I understood because I am the father of a 3 year old and I want the same for my child. We share the want to protect our children from polio. She came to me because I could protect her infant child. It is a powerful and gratifying emotion to know you can instantly change the life of another for the better. I called over to Nancy, a Rotarian from Indiana, USA, who had a ready vial of polio vaccine and we vaccinated the infant against polio.

I understand health workers in other parts of Africa have to spend considerable amounts of time convincing parents to let their children be vaccinated against polio. Not so in the ethnic division of Ethiopia known as the Southern Nations. These folks remember polio from a few years ago before Ethiopia was free of polio. I don’t think they actually know about the recent cases of polio in Ethiopia which migrated from neighboring countries. They just know that when health workers, even volunteers of another skin color from 8,000 miles away, have the vaccine you make sure your small children get the two precious drops. Read more

Rotary International guests from US and Canada visit UNICEF Ethiopia to support polio eradication efforts

By Shalini Rozario

Group photo: Rotary International guests from US and Canada visit UNICEF EthiopiaOn 12 November 2013, members of Rotary International’s Polio Advocacy Group paid a visit to UNICEF Ethiopia to meet with Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative, to discuss the status of the wild polio virus circulation within the Horn of Africa and to learn more about UNICEF activities and contribution.

UNICEF welcomed the visitors with much appreciation for their dedication and interest in immunization efforts. A presentation was given by Dr. Salama on the overview of UNICEF response alongside a short film on community engagement for polio immunization highlighting communication activities supported by polio partners including Rotary International and the National Polio Plus Committee. Following the presentation, the discussion included topics such as access challenges to reach remote communities; flexible funding for the evolving outbreak and how broader strategies could help to maximize large scale community participation and support to polio, routine immunization and child survival generally.

Community Engagement for Polio Immunization in Ethiopia

The Rotary Advocacy Group is part of a larger group of 45 Rotarians from the United States and Canada who are visiting Ethiopia this week to demonstrate their interest and support for the polio eradication efforts.

Globally, Rotary International has supported polio eradication efforts for the last 34 years and is one of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative Partners alongside the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF.

See photos from the visit here.