Community Engagement with Women and Local Leaders is Key to Ending Polio

By Kelly O'Keeffe

August 8, 2018

Today, we are on the verge of one of the greatest public health accomplishments in human history: the eradication of polio. In 1988, there were 350,000 annual cases of polio; in 2017, there were 22. We are closer than ever to realizing a world in which every child would be safe from the paralysis the virus causes, and no family would ever have to bear the emotional and financial costs of the disease again.

We have made significant progress thanks to global efforts through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative as well as community-led efforts at the local level, including those led by women. From Pakistan to Nigeria, women around the world have taken charge in their communities to administer and advocate for the polio vaccine.

Women are particularly effective vaccinators, as they tend to know well which families in their communities have welcomed new children that will need to be vaccinated. Women are also skilled at fostering trust within their communities and dispelling myths about vaccines that still persist in some areas. In many communities, only women have access to households and female caregivers to vaccinate children.

Aisha Filibus is one of the thousands of women who serve as frontline polio vaccinators in Nigeria through the World Health Organization. Aisha works in a refugee camp in Gwoze to immunize children and educate young mothers about the vaccine and other important preventative measures.

Like in Nigeria, women in Somalia use their skills and training to vaccinate children in hard to reach communities. Bella Yusuf and Asha Adbi Din, for example, are local mothers who are working to protect children in their community from the virus.

“I enjoy serving my people. And as a mother, it is my duty to help all children,” said Bella.

Bella works alongside Asha, nicknamed “Mama Ayesha”, a District Polio Officer and community leader that oversees vaccination campaigns. Mama Ayesha previously served as a smallpox vaccinator and is well known in her community for her maternal instincts.

Aisha, Bella, and Mama Ayesha are just a few of the women around the world who work everyday to protect their communities from poliovirus. Their efforts have not only made a difference in the fight to eradicate polio, but also in women’s economic and social empowerment. As vaccinators employed through global initiatives, women are able to make valuable contributions to their communities and their own families.

While there is still work to be done to fully eradicate polio, progress continues to be made every day to vaccinate children around the world. Local immunization efforts spearheaded by women have put the world one step closer to protecting every child from the debilitating effects of polio.

For more on women and polio eradication, visit the Global Polio Eradication Initiative website to learn more about women who are making a difference.


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