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

2014-10-23

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.

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 percent.  All 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.”

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.”

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About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. We work tirelessly to help children and their families, doing whatever it takes to ensure children survive. We provide children with healthcare and immunization, clean water, nutrition and food security, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF is supported entirely by voluntary donations and helps children regardless of race, religion or politics. As part of the UN, we are active in over 190 countries - more than any other organization. Our determination and our reach are unparalleled. Because nowhere is too far to go to help a child survive. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.