Wild poliovirus has now been eliminated from all but two countries in the world. However, even though there were only 542 cases globally in 2019, this represented a large increase on previous years. And now in the context of COVID-19, this highly contagious disease could spread rapidly in communities with limited access to vaccines, health care and sanitation – a risk greatly exacerbated by disrupted vaccination campaigns, triggered by the pandemic.
Fortunately, health care workers in Afghanistan and Pakistan – the only two countries where wild polio remains endemic – have recently resumed polio vaccination campaigns, with COVID-19 prevention measures in place. These measures include screening health workers for symptoms, regular handwashing, providing face masks and a “no touch” vaccination method to ensure physical distancing.
“No touch” vaccination is possible during these campaigns because polio vaccines can be given orally. The oral polio vaccine (OPV) is easy to administer without human contact, via droplets in the mouth, allowing children to be vaccinated without increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Amina, one of the health workers in Pakistan, travels to some of the most remote and under-served parts of her country to ensure that people living there are vaccinated against the disease. In this video, she explains some of the challenges her team faces:
The images were published with kind permission from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). The world has made tremendous progress in the fight against polio in a little over three decades, thanks in large part to the work led by GPEI. But polio will remain a threat until every child is protected.