World Vision to immunize 100,000 against Somalia polio outbreak

By Boaz Wadel

In response to a polio outbreak in Somalia, World Vision is mounting a six-month campaign to immunize 100,000 Somali children against polio and other diseases.

'A big blow to Somali children'

Though Somalia was declared polio-free in 2007, an outbreak began in May in the Banadir region that has affected 174 people.

"The polio outbreak is a big blow to Somali children who have lacked health services over a long period of time as a result of the continued conflict and natural disasters," says Francois Batalingaya, World Vision's national director for Somalia.

Although no polio cases have been reported in World Vision project areas, two districts in Gedo region have recorded three cases. Gedo, on the border with Ethiopia, is considered a high-risk area because of its mobile population of displaced persons and refugees.

Since the first child was diagnosed in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, 173 people in 10 regions of the country have been affected by polio paralysis. The disease has also affected three people in Ethiopia and 14 in Kenya.

World Vision is responding

World Vision and other organizations have conducted six vaccination campaigns in response to the latest outbreak, increasing monitoring and reporting of suspected polio cases and training government personnel involved in the campaigns.

Vaccination teams have set up operations at border crossings and transit points, vaccinating more than 10,000 children every week.

Three more polio vaccination campaigns are planned before the end of the year.

As a result of the massive immunization effort, the number of newly reported cases from Banadir has recently begun to decline.

Conflict thwarts polio eradication

Large areas of south-central Somalia had not conducted immunization campaigns since 2009 due to insecurity, leaving more than 600,000 children particularly vulnerable.

Following years of conflict and ineffective government, health services and infrastructure are almost non-existent in parts of Somalia. Large segments of the population depend on relief organizations, such as World Vision, for basic health services and other humanitarian aid.

A recent report from World Vision called "The Killer Gap: A global index of health inequality for children" could not rank Somalia because there was no comprehensive health data available.

A setback for global eradication efforts

This year's polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa is a major setback for the global effort to eradicate polio.

In 2012, there were 223 recorded cases of polio worldwide; the number has already topped 270 this year. More than two-thirds of the polio cases this year are in countries that had been certified free of polio for years.

The incidence of polio in the three endemic countries has dropped by 40 percent compared to the same period last year. Afghanistan and Nigeria made the greatest progress, followed by Pakistan.

Since 1988 when the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was founded by the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and others, the number of new polio cases detected annually has dropped by 99 percent. In the same time period, the number of endemic countries dropped from 125 to three.

GPEI and its partners have developed a strategy of immunizations and surveillance to end transmission of polio before 2020.

Two ways you can help

Pray for children vulnerable to polio in the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia. Pray that eradication efforts would be successful.

Make a one-time gift to help fight the polio outbreak in Somalia. Your donation will help us provide vaccinations, supplies like soap, and education for families on safe food preparation and hand-washing to reduce transmission. Additionally, community workers and other leaders will be trained to identify polio cases and respond quickly.

© 2013 World Vision