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Eradicating polio: Of health workers, cell phones and saving lives

Polio Blog2

October 23, 2017

Author: Mercy Simiyu

Post authored by Mercy Simiyu, Medic's Partnership and Communications Manager for the Africa region, and co-authored by Alix Emden, Global Administrative Associate. Above, Medic fellow administers oral polio vaccination drops to a child in Raipur, India during our pilot with the Developmental Medical Foundation (DMF). 

While great strides have been made since the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in 1998, polio remains a threat to children around the world, striking at any age but mostly commonly affecting children under the age of five. Polio is an incurable but completely vaccine-preventable disease, particularly so with the support of mobile health interventions. Our work with frontline health workers serves to strengthen health systems by improving linkages and access through the use of our toolkit. With our toolkit currently in the hands of 16,000 health workers, we hope to continue scaling up to support the global goal to completely eradicate polio as we aim for higher immunization coverage in the areas where we have deployed.

On this 5th annual World Polio Day, we look back at the work that we have done across the globe to support health workers focusing on community health and increasing immunization coverage. We are particularly pleased that our Standard Deployment package was selected this year as part of the GAVI INFUSE Innovators. With the support of our funders, this package offers an affordable mHealth solution that smaller organizations can leverage to support their volunteers and ensure that children are receiving all immunization doses, especially as we focus on the eradication of polio.

Immunization Impact Logic Sketch

By receiving automated scheduled tasks and reminders for individual children and their specific vaccination needs, CHWs and their supervisors are able to work together to ensure that those needing shots, or those who have defaulted from the schedule, can be identified easily and referred accordingly to facilities that can provide the life-saving vaccines.

With one of our partners as an example, our team in Kenya have deployed and supported Kilifi Kids, a nonprofit working in Makueni county, to strengthen their health volunteer work activities. The Kilifi Kids CHWs have used SIM Apps since 2014 to register children, receiving SMS reminders for CHW to tell mother to take her child for a complete set of vaccinations. The Kenya-specific immunization workflow ensures that the initial dose for polio vaccine is given at first contact or before the elapse of two weeks after birth. Our system sets automated reminders to CHWs to ensure all registered children receive Polio 1, given at 6 weeks, Polio 2 at 10 weeks, and Polio 3 at 14 weeks. As result of these efforts, Kilifi Kids health workers recorded that 84 polio immunizations were administered at birth in 2015, a number which quadrupled over the next year with over 350 children in the community immunized.


Our Research Lead, Isaac Holeman, recently published a systematic review alongside partners at the University of Cambridge looking at the use of mobile phones to improve vaccination uptake in low and middle income countries. The review found that when compared to parents who received routine health education alone, parents who were sent SMS reminders to vaccinate their children against polio led to significantly higher vaccination rates and significantly less delay in receiving these vaccinations.¹

We support Rotary International and their partners in their concerted efforts across the globe as they note that unless polio is eradicated, the world could see as many as 200,000 new cases each year within the next 10 years. Join us as we tune in to the Rotary live stream of the World Polio Day activities in Seattle, Washington this week on the 24th of October, co-hosted with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and featuring global health experts on the progress made towards the eradication of polio.

Sources Used: 

¹ "Using Mobile Phones to Improve Vaccination Uptake in 21 Low-and Middle-Income Countries: Systematic Review". Clare Oliver-Williams, Elizabeth Brown, Sara Devereux, Cassandra Fairhead, Isaac Holeman. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth 2017 (Oct 04); 5 (10): e148

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