UN agencies concerned further delay puts 1.8 million children’s lives at risk 

9 October 2015 – Six weeks after the polio outbreak in Ukraine, Unicef and WHO have stepped up calls for an immediate first round of nationwide polio vaccination. Ukraine’s Ministry of Health confirmed two cases of polio on 1 September. They were found in children living in Zakarpatska region, in southwest Ukraine. Both children, aged 10 months and 4 years, were not vaccinated against the disease.

If not stopped immediately, the virus can spread across Ukraine, putting 1.8 million children’s lives at risk. Risk of further polio outbreak remains unless a full-scale immunization campaign begins immediately to stop the transmission of the polio virus. 

International guidelines state that just one polio case constitutes an outbreak, requiring an urgent response because of how quickly polio can spread if all children are not fully immunized. The outbreak and low level of vaccination rates in Ukraine risks children’s health and well-being as well as threatens Europe’s polio-free status. 

The outbreak can be rapidly stopped through nationwide immunization of children with three rounds of oral polio vaccines, according to guidelines from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative*, which brings together WHO, Unicef and other health partners. Unicef has procured 3.7 million oral polio vaccines for Ukraine, with funding from the Government of Canada. WHO has confirmed that the vaccines are entirely safe and ready to use. 

“The longer the polio virus is allowed to circulate in Ukraine, the higher the risk that this outbreak will spread and paralyse more children. We call on decision-makers and health care providers in Ukraine to take immediate action and vaccinate all children to urgently stop the transmission of the virus,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.  

This is the first polio outbreak to hit Ukraine in 19 years, revealing the vulnerability of children in the country. These two cases highlight once again the importance of full vaccination coverage for all children. 

“Government authorities have the responsibility to protect children against this debilitating disease. I am pleased that today 70 per cent of Ukrainian mothers are aware of the benefits of vaccination to protect their children. Vaccination rounds should start now,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, Unicef Regional Director.

Ukraine’s political leaders must take the decision to support the outbreak response measures and launch the nationwide immunization campaign to protect children from avoidable paralysis and possible death.

Unicef and WHO are on standby to support the campaign. 


*The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments and spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide. See more at: http://www.polioeradication.org/AboutUs.aspx#sthash.kNsxDaeL.dpuf

Notes for editors:

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About WHO

WHO’s primary role is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’ system. WHO main areas of work include health systems, promoting health through the life-course, noncommunicable diseases, communicable diseases, corporate services, preparedness, surveillance and response. For more information about WHO in Ukraine follow us on Facebook. 

About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

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