Walking through twisting and turning pathways, I follow a team of three community health workers through a neighborhood in Kano, Nigeria. It’s sticky and hot as the afternoon sun beats down, dust clouds the air, and the sounds of goats and motor scooters fill the surroundings. There are no street signs to guide us — only knowledgeable and trusted women from this community who know the way.

We turn a corner and come to a cement facade with a piece of fabric in the doorway. The team lead calls through the curtain and asks if we can come in. A woman sits on the floor just past the entry with a 5-month-old baby while her other children run around the courtyard. The team pulls out the health checkup card for the mother and baby and gets to work.

These community health workers are responsible for going house to house to check on families, looking for signs of fever or acute paralysis, an indication that a child may have poliovirus. They also are critical messengers of health, ensuring that families are up to date on their routine immunizations, providing breastfeeding or other nutritional support, and also monitoring for any emerging illnesses that need to be tracked.

It may seem small scale, but these community health workers that I met on a pre-pandemic trip in 2019 are a vital part to achieving the goal of eradicating polio around the world, and they are central to the new strategy of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). They have made the difference in countries where wiping out polio was once thought impossible — places like Nigeria, which was just certified wild polio-free in August 2020.

Read the full article about eradicating polio by Rachel Bridges at United Nations Foundation.