Polio outbreak spreads in Somalia
Senior Somali government officials launch polio campaign
Mogadishu, Somalia , 27 May 2013 – Mothers and children lined up patiently here today for polio vaccination, under a high sun and intense heat. Their vaccinator was the Prime Minister himself, Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, who vaccinated children at the presidential palace as part of an emergency response to the reappearance of polio in Somalia.
Four cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in Somalia due to importation, causing great concern within the country, as well as from international partners. The risk is considerable that this could result in a large outbreak paralyzing hundreds of children.
The Mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamed Nur, joined the Prime Minister calling on all Somalis to support the polio campaign that will continue till 2 June.
“The return of wild poliovirus to Somalia after six years is a great tragedy for Somali children and I call on all Somalis to help protect our children against this menace. Polio paralyzes and kills, yet children can be protected by taking the polio vaccine. Each and every dose builds protection,” said Prime Minister Saaid.
Since the first child was paralyzed earlier this month in Mogadishu, three more cases have been confirmed in the capital. The virus has also spread, with the first case outside Mogadishu reported this week in Bay – hundreds of kilometers to the south.
Alongside Kenya, Somalia is one of only two countries in the world that has reported a single case of wild poliovirus outside the three countries that have never stopped transmission (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan). An intense and rapid emergency effort is under way to stop the outbreak.
International polio partners Rotary International, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF were represented at the launch event by WHO Representative for Somalia, Dr Ghulam Popal met the high level delegation and praised the speed of the response to the outbreak, while also expressing his concern for the large number of children in the country who remain unvaccinated against polio.
“The speed and scope of the response to this outbreak by Somalia has been incredible, with hundreds of thousands of children in Banadir and Afgoye protected from polio paralysis within days of the first reported case,” said Dr Popal.
“However, right now there are up to one million children across the country who have never received a single dose of oral polio vaccine. Polio is prevented only through protecting children with safe and effective polio vaccine.”
To protect Somali children and prevent further spread beyond the country, up to nine large scale polio vaccination campaigns are planned for Somalia targeting highest risk areas and populations. As Prime Minister Saaid noted during his address to gathered parents, invited guests and local media, “Somali children have many challenges to face but polio paralysis should not be one of them. This outbreak represents a challenge to the leaders of Somalia, but we are ready for that challenge and will do all in our powers to ensure this scourge is again eliminated from this country. Somalia has eradicated polio before and we are determined to do so again.”