World Polio Day: Life as a Polio Survivor | UNICEF Canada: For Every Child Skip to main content

When Safia Ibrahim was only a year old, living in her birth country of Somalia, she contracted polio - an infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause temporary or permanent paralysis. For Safia, surviving polio was a miracle but also lead to severe inconveniences, as the polio left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Life after polio

After an outbreak of civil war in Somalia, Safia emigrated to Canada as a refugee when she was 8 years old. Moving to Canada meant an improved life for Safia: for the first time she was seen by a paediatrician, gained access to full health care and was granted the ability to walk when she received her first braces.  The improvement also revealed the stark realities of her disability and dreams she would still not be able to pursue. She faced years of mental health issues and multiple physical struggles, as a result of her earlier experience with polio.

As an adult, after having three of her own children, Safia decided to harness her experiences as a polio survivor to speak out about the necessity of vaccination and ensuring that no child whether in Canada or around the world, would have to go through the same experiences she went through. Today she is Special Vaccination Representative to UNICEF Canada and a spokesperson for Immunize Canada. 

As long as polio exists anywhere, it is a threat to children everywhere. 

Ending polio is a key step toward improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. Despite incredible progress - including reducing wild polio cases by over 99 % - thousands of children are still missing out on polio vaccines and the polio program faces serious challenges in its final stages toward eradication. In 2019, cases of wild polio have increased when compared to 2018, and outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio continue in parts of Asia and Africa. 

UNICEF plays a critical role in the polio eradication program, using our global presence to reach every child with vaccines and basic services for their health and well-being. We procure and distribute over 1 billion doses of polio vaccines annually. We work together with children, families and communities to promote healthy behaviours, build trust in vaccines, and motivate parents to vaccinate their children against polio.

The amazing efforts of women and men involved in the polio program, and the sustained commitment of partners and donors, such as the Government of Canada, will make sure that the disease is ended for good. You can also participate in eradicating polio by giving the gift of polio vaccines today.