How children can play their part in preventing polio from spreading

As a result of routine vaccination programmes, polio has been largely eradicated in most parts of the world. But polio is found in some places. It’s still a significant problem in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, and there’s a potential risk of infection in some parts of Africa and some Middle Eastern countries.

Children collect drinking water for their families in Western Afghanistan. Photo: Marcus Perkins

Preventing polio

Polio is caused by a virus which can leave a child weak and in some cases with a life-long physical disability. In severe cases, arms and legs that are paralysed and backs that are twisted and weak can never be cured. However, the healthy muscles can be built up and taught to make up for the damaged ones. 

Children can help to spread the message that polio can be prevented by immunisation by trained health workers. Most importantly, they can help children with polio by being friendly, and playing with them. 

When children get polio, they may have a fever for some days. While they have fever, they need to rest very quietly. Sometimes the fever is very mild, and it is almost impossible to know that the child is suffering from polio. Not all fever leads to polio. BUT if children have a fever and their legs, arms or back become weak, they must be taken to the doctor or health worker.  

Watch this short video on how the World Health Organization’s (WHO) surveillance system is trying to eradicate polio.

Immunisation for everyone

  • Check to make sure that each child has been correctly immunised against polio, including the extra ‘booster’ doses. If children are not sure, they can ask their mothers to look on their health clinic card. 
  • What about brothers and sisters – have they been immunised? Have they had their extra booster dose? The booster is very important because they will have less protection against Polio if the boosters are missed. 
  • Find out from health workers when the immunisation can be done and encourage mothers and fathers to make sure all the children in the family have been immunised properly. 
  • Make a wall chart and make a mark against the name of each child who is immunised. Keep reminding those who have not been immunised, and work towards having a mark against everyone’s name.
  • Older children can go to the clinic with the younger ones, and comfort them and play games with them if they feel frightened. 
  • The children can carry out a campaign in the community with placards informing everyone of the necessity of having the polio vaccine, and the times when they can be vaccinated. 
  • The children can do a play for the community with the polio monster who is defeated by the vaccine as part of the campaign.
Local health workers should know when immunisation needs to be done. Photo: Richard Hanson

This information has been compiled from Child-to-Child activity sheets. Child-to-Child partners with the world’s leading agencies to equip children with the skills to stay safe and healthy and achieve their potential, no matter what life throws at them. The sheets are a resource for teachers, and health and community workers, designed to help children understand how to improve health in other children, their families, and their communities. Topics chosen are important for community health and suit the age, interests and experience of children. The text, ideas and activities may be freely adapted to suit local conditions.  

While we’ve focused on polio here, immunisation prevents illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases including cervical cancer, diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, rotavirus diarrhoea, rubella and tetanus. (Read a blog about the schedule for childhood immunisation.) 

According to WHO, global vaccination coverage remains at 85 per cent, with no significant changes during the past few years. Uptake of new and underused vaccines is increasing. An additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided, however, if global immunisation coverage were to improve. 

Before you go, take the World Health Organization’s interactive quiz on immunisation to find out how much you know about vaccine-preventable diseases. 

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