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Opening remarks for UNICEF virtual event on the ‘Role of Women in Polio Eradication’ – 25 Oct 2021

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UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore

Good morning. On behalf of UNICEF, welcome to this very special World Polio Day event on the role of women in polio eradication. Thank you Geeta for moderating this discussion.

The world continues to see broad progress in the fight against polio. The number of children affected by the polio virus has decreased by 99 per cent over the past three decades. Last year, the Africa region was certified free of wild polio. And this year, in the last two remaining polio endemic countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, only two wild polio cases have been reported so far.

Behind this remarkable progress lie the extraordinary contributions of heroic polio workers, the majority of whom are women.

From global and national leaders and advocates to fundraisers, vaccination campaign managers and scientists … to disease surveillance officers and local community workers building trust in vaccines at the local level … the commitment and diligence of these women enable us to vaccinate over 400 million children every year.

For example, Nigeria’s 20,000 strong polio community workers – more than 90 per cent of them women – played a critical role in the country being certified wild polio free last year.

These women worked tirelessly in reaching out to mothers and caregivers in areas where social norms prevented male polio team members from interacting with women in the community.

There are similar examples from Pakistan and Afghanistan where the increase in the female polio community work force has contributed to growing vaccine acceptance in communities.

But our work to protect children from polio is not over. Even one child with polio is one too many – so we cannot stop until we end this disease for good.

Millions of children missed their polio vaccination in 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many challenges we face in getting children vaccinated.

That is why earlier this year, UNICEF and partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative launched a new strategy to urgently overcome these remaining challenges to polio eradication.

And as we implement this strategy, we must remain committed to advancing gender equality. Our work should empower women across all levels of the global polio eradication effort – from decision makers to frontline workers.

UNICEF is grateful to national governments and global donors and partners for your unwavering commitment to gender equality and global polio eradication efforts. We also count on your continued leadership and support in overcoming the remaining hurdles towards achieving a polio free world for every girl and boy.

I look forward to our dialogue today with colleagues, partners and experts from across the world. This is an important opportunity for us to discuss how best to address safety and other challenges facing female polio workers in the final frontiers of polio eradication efforts.

Thank you.

Media contacts

Christopher Tidey

UNICEF New York

Tel: +1 917 340 3017

Email: ctidey@unicef.org