In Somalia, a major campaign to stop the spread of polio
Thursday, August 15, 2013
The mother of 3-year-old Mohamed Seef Naasir never realized the
importance of vaccinating her children against polio until it was too
The family lives hand-to -mouth in a makeshift shelter in a camp
in the Somali capital Mogadishu for people displaced by the famine and
Khadija says that two months ago her son had a high fever that didn’t come down even after he was given medicine.
“One morning he called me and told me he couldn’t stand up,” she
says. “I saw his leg was swollen. I helped him to stand up, but his
whole leg was paralyzed.”
The story is all too common in Somalia, where restricted access for
aid workers, insecurity and lack of public awareness have left a large
proportion of children unvaccinated against polio and other deadly
Six years after the country was declared polio-free, there are now
more cases of the disease in Somalia than in all other countries
combined: the World Health Organization has confirmed 101 cases since it
was first identified in a 2-year-old girl in May.
There is no cure for polio, which is spread through water or food
contaminated with faeces from an infected person. It thrives in
overcrowded places with poor sanitation, such as these camps for the
Dr. Abdikarim Aseyr, a polio expert in Mogadishu, says the fact that
because many people have not been vaccinated and have weak immune
systems, it is crucial to move quickly in reaching communities with
“The only medicine is prevention, and that’s why we urge all the people to receive polio vaccination,” he says.
Religious leaders have also given their support to the vaccination
campaign, emphasizing that parents have a duty to protect their
children. Sheikh Abdulkadir Mohamed Soomow, an Islamic scholar in
Mogadishu, points out that Islam calls on its followers to find a cure
“In the case of polio, we urge the people of Somalia to be
vaccinated,” he says. “The doctors tell us that polio can kill, and it’s
harmful to both adults and children.”
So far, five rounds of house-to-house polio vaccinations have been
carried out, with several more planned. Some campaigns have targeted
children under 5 years, others under 10 and others adults as well.
UNICEF, the World Health Organization and their partners have helped
procure and distribute vaccines. The Government of Japan, among other
donors, has provided an emergency grant to provide oral polio
vaccinations for more than 2.8 million children under 10 years old.
It is already too late to save those affected by this year’s
outbreak. The challenge now is to ensure that the outbreak is contained
as quickly as possible, so that Somalia can once again be polio-free.