Polio Eradication Proves Trusted Partner in Fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) program, including CDC, is drawing on years of experience fighting outbreaks and reaching underserved communities to support governments as they prepare and respond to COVID-19. The infrastructure developed and supported by GPEI to advance polio eradication includes the extensive surveillance and laboratory network and the large cadre of frontline health workers to engage communities and conduct mass vaccination campaigns.
In the polio endemic countries of Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where polio personnel and assets have a significant footprint, workers from all GPEI partners are pitching in with COVID-19 disease surveillance, health worker training, contact tracing, risk communication and more. In Pakistan, the national help line established for polio-related calls is now also providing information to the public on COVID-19. The regional reference laboratories are providing technical support for COVID-19 virologic testing. Additionally, polio teams are:
- providing training to surveillance officers on the specifics of COVID-19 surveillance,
- supporting the development of a new data system that is fully integrated with the existing surveillance and data management system for polio, and
- lending their skills as health risk communicators, providing accurate educational information to the community who have questions and a desire for information about the disease and its manifestations.
In Nigeria, CDC polio in-country staff serve in the Nigeria Emergency Operations Center for COVID-19 in the capital, Abuja, and are supporting the National Emergency Routine Immunization Coordination Centre (NERICC) with COVID-19 response planning. National Stop Transmission of Polio (NSTOP) personnel are also supporting the NERICC to boost response capacity to COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Participants in the STOP Program are actively supporting preparations and response to COVID-19 in non-endemic countries, as well. Since 1999, CDC supported STOP has recruited, trained and deployed 2,225 public health professionals on more than 4,600 assignments in 78 countries, making it CDC’s largest global training program. Currently, there are 107 STOPers (46% of the program staff) in 32 countries who have reported spending an average of 36% of their time on COVID-19 activities, including surveillance, communication plans, advocacy, social mobilization, data collection and analysis, and on-the-job and formal group trainings.
Earlier this year, one of CDC’s STOP program participants responded to an outbreak of circulating vaccine-derived polio in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now he, and many CDC’s STOPpers in over 30 countries, are supporting urgent global COVID-19 preparedness and response activities.
Photo Credit: CDC STOP
STOP Program participant and mentor provide supportive supervision and review the contents of the vaccine box with a frontline vaccinator during a polio campaign in Sokoto State, Nigeria.
Photo Credit: CDC STOP
The polio eradication program is committed to providing the expertise and assets to assist in stopping the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, GPEI partners remain committed to polio eradication and are working closely with countries to prepare and mount responses to reported cases or outbreaks of polio and to quickly reach missed children with protective vaccine, as soon as it is safe to do so.