World Polio Day 2014 commemorated in Ethiopia

By Shalini Rozario

On 24 October 2014, UNICEF, WHO, Rotary International and Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) gathered to commemorate World Polio Day, which also coincided with United Nations Day. In a Joint Statement issued by WHO, UNICEF and Rotary, the partners appreciated frontline workers in the fight against polio and called for sustained support for eradication efforts.

World Polio Day celebrated in Addis Ababa Ethiopia in the premises of the UNECA compound.
World Polio Day celebrated in Addis Ababa Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

The World Polio day commemoration commenced with a moment of silence for the late Past District Governor (PDG) Nahu Senaye Araya, President of the Rotary National Polio Plus Committee. Ato Araya’s family, in attendance, was presented with a certificate of appreciation by WHO, UNICEF and Rotary for his years of dedicated service to the polio programme.

Dr. Pierre Mpele-Kilebou, WHO Representative to Ethiopia, stated in his welcoming remarks, “Today is a reminder of our duty to make sure that no more children are paralyzed by the disease that can be prevented with a simple, easy to administer vaccine.” The screening of two short videos, Help #EndPolio Forever and Curbing the polio spread through nation wide immunisation campaign, followed his welcoming remarks.

Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting Representative to UNICEF Ethiopia commended the contribution of partners in her key note address and emphasized the gains being made to reach all children with the polio vaccine and improved child survival interventions. “As the World Polio Day coincides with UN Day, we place our efforts within the broader context, as we work to uphold a child’s right to health as a basic human right for all. With the deadline fast approaching for measuring progress against achievement of the MDGs, our minds turn to the Ethiopia’s remarkable achievement of reaching MDG4. I believe, if we had the ability to achieve this goal three years ahead of schedule, we can certainly work together to ensure all eligible children are fully immunized by their first birthday.”

PDG Tadesse Alemu speaks at the World Polio Day
PDG Tadesse Alemu speaks at the World Polio Day commoration in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

On a keynote address by PDG Dr. Tadesse Alemu, who recalled the commitment and dedication of PDG Nahu Senaye Araya, said “Swift and unprecedented changes in the world has impacted efforts of polio eradication. We must have strong push to end polio now. Dr. Taye Tolera, Special Advisor to the State Minister of Health, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, delivered remarks from the Ministry of Health. He stated, “This joint commemoration clearly shows that all partners and allies have maintained the stamina in the commitment and support to the Expanded Programme on Immunization and the Polio Eradication Initiative.” He called for continued commitment: “We all should be proud of our shared achievements. But, we should continue the journey until this highly interconnected world we all share is free of polio before 2018.”

As part of the World Polio Day events, Rotary International announced earlier in the week a US$44.7 million grant to fight polio in Africa, Asia and the Middle East on 21st October this year with Ethiopia to receive US$ 2 million for polio eradication efforts in the country.

Read the press release by UNICEF here.

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.”