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Vaccine ImpactOctober 24, 2018

Bold Steps to End Polio

Today the global vaccine community comes together to commemorate World Polio Day. We are celebrating the progress already made in the fight against polio — a 99.9% reduction in cases – and also acknowledging the efforts needed to finally eradicate this debilitating disease.

In honor of this important day, the United Nations Foundation asked global health journalist Christine McNab to capture stories of those impacted by polio around the world. Meet Luis, Martha, and Adèle— three amazing people from across the globe who are connected by this vaccine-preventable disease. Their stories help us understand how polio impacts lives, and appreciate the efforts of those working to eliminate the disease once and for all.

Luis Fermin Tenorio Cortez and Dr. Richard Zapata stand in front of the hospital where Luis received his polio diagnosis in 1993. Photo credit: Christine McNab/UN Foundation

The Last Case of Polio in the Americas

Luis Fermin Tenorio Cortez was the last person in the Americas to be diagnosed with polio. As a baby in remote Pichanaki, Peru, Luis was not immunized against the disease. His village was too far from the health clinic, and there was a general mistrust of vaccines in his community. Without the polio vaccine, Luis suffered near-fatal consequences, and today remains partially paralyzed. However, Luis’ polio diagnosis in 1993 triggered a massive polio vaccination campaign by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). This campaign delivered vaccines to the hardest-to-reach populations in rural Peru. It took three years of persistence to end polio in the country, but the Americas were finally certified polio-free.
Read more about Luis’ story and polio vaccination efforts in Peru and beyond.

Going the Extra Mile to Keep India Polio-Free

Government health worker, Martha Dodray, spends hours each day traveling to remote communities in India to vaccinate children against polio. These efforts are a part of India’s current polio eradication program. Martha works in the Kosi River Basin area, which was a longtime stronghold for polio despite work to eliminate the disease countrywide. Luckily, Martha’s efforts, and those of health workers like her, have helped build community trust and established the infrastructure needed to carry out such a large-scale vaccination campaign. Their work has helped eliminate polio in India, which many once thought was impossible.
Learn more about the elimination of polio in the Kosi River Basin.

A young girl receives a vaccine to prevent polio on a remote Lake Chad island. Photo credit: Christine McNab/UN Foundation

Crossing the Waters to Stop Polio

Dr. Adèle Daleke Lisi Aluma and her colleagues are a part of the Lake Chad polio team. They spend hours traveling across the water in fishing boats, and then canoes, to reach the remote Lake Chad Islands. In the past, many of the region’s children were unvaccinated because it is so difficult to reach these communities. Now, Dr. Aluma and her colleagues spend hours trekking across the wide swath of islands to ensure they find and vaccinate every child they can.
Their efforts are paying off. As of June 2018, their campaign had reached more than 53,200 children in almost 500 villages. The team’s dedication and commitment to finding every child in the region are critical if we want to end polio on the African continent.
Learn more about Lake Chad polio elimination efforts.

In each part of the world, advocates, health workers, and policymakers are taking bold steps to create a future without polio. As a global community, we must continue our march toward a polio-free world and support those working tirelessly to eradicate this preventable disease.

Take your own bold steps to end polio this World Polio Day.

  • Discover what bold steps you can take to end polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases through Shot@Life’s Race to Erase advocacy push.
  • Advocate for a world without polio on social media using the hashtags #EndPolio and #WorldPolioDay.


Rachel Smidt