On 25 August 2020, after four years without a single case of wild polio, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) African region was officially certified free of wild poliovirus. In celebration of this historic moment, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO AFRO) hosted a celebration to highlight the tremendous effort from African leaders, health workers, volunteers, parents, global donors and organizations to reach every child with polio vaccines.
While the milestone was a major accomplishment for Africa and the world, the polio program was confronting major challenges posed by COVID-19, the ongoing threat of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV) and increased wild polio transmission in the two remaining endemic countries. The commemoration needed to be appropriately celebratory while also making the case for continued commitment to overcome remaining barriers.
In partnership with WHO AFRO and the GPEI, GHS organized the certification event and spearheaded all communications around the milestone, including traditional media outreach, social media and designed products.
For the event, which was moved to a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GHS worked with WHO AFRO to develop the run of show, drafted speaker remarks and coordinated logistics. GHS shaped the narrative around this complex moment and worked closely with reporters to secure balanced media coverage in priority markets.
GHS also developed original branding, a website, and social media materials to promote the milestone. For the website, GHS designed a digital timeline, a series of original stories, profiles of heroic health workers and key leaders, and a social media toolkit. The site was translated in full into English, French and Portuguese and hosted a livestream of the 25 August event.
More than 2,000 people tuned in to watch the virtual event, which featured remarks from high-level speakers, including the President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari, Kenyan Senator and polio survivor Harold Kipchumba, Bill Gates, Aliko Dangote and GPEI leadership. The website was visited by over 30,000 people during the week of the event and media engagement efforts resulted in more than 70 pieces from top-tier outlets, including The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, and Good Morning America.
The website also acted as a new method to drive unified social engagement around a polio milestone. Using the hashtags #endpolio, #polio and #AfricaKicksOutWildPolio, there were more than 100K mentions across social media during the week of the event. The website continues to serve as a means to preserve and celebrate the African region’s journey to wild polio-free certification.