Polio, the deadly viral disease that was once the leading cause of paralysis among children worldwide, is very close to being eradicated. However, it is not gone. The poliovirus is even emerging now in countries that have remained polio-free for decades. To eliminate polio completely, we must vaccinate every child in every household.
While enormous progress has occurred, millions of children are still missing out on the polio vaccine. Moreover, interruptions of immunization activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to persistent challenges such as conflict, expanding migrant and refugee populations, and misinformation about vaccines, are leaving children vulnerable to the vaccine-preventable disease.
Despite pervasive challenges, UNICEF remains committed to protecting every child from polio alongside governments, public and private partners, and communities.
As a spearheading partner of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), UNICEF helps vaccinate over 400 million children globally against polio every year, ensures that there is a sufficient supply of vaccines to meet global needs, and uses social and behavior change (SBC) strategies to build trust and motivate caregivers to vaccinate their children.
A key to the SBC approach's success is the participation of women. Female vaccinators play a critical role in building community trust for vaccine acceptance and vaccinating children, especially in countries where cultural norms prevent men from entering households.
Since the launch of the GPEI in 1988, over 2.5 billion children have been immunized, over 20 million have been spared disability, and over 900,000 polio-related deaths have been prevented. The number of people afflicted with polio has declined by more than 99.9 percent, and two of the three types of wild polio virus have been eradicated.
The GPEI was born out of the world’s commitment to reach every child in every country with the polio vaccine. Founded in 1988, the GPEI is a public-private partnership led by national governments and supported by six core partners, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and GAVI, the vaccine alliance.