Tuesday, August 06, 2013
UNICEF has received an emergency contribution of US$1.3 million from
the Government of Japan to procure and distribute urgently needed polio
vaccines for children in Somalia.
With a growing number of unvaccinated children now facing an
explosive outbreak of polio cases in the country, Japan's generous
contribution will help UNICEF and partners conduct additional
vaccination campaigns and prevent further spread of the virus across
Somalia and into neighbouring countries.
In May, a two-year-old girl from Mogadishu became the first confirmed
case of polio in Somalia in more than six years. The country had been
polio-free since March 2007.
As of July, the virus has paralyzed 95 Somali children: 94 confirmed
cases in South Central Zone, which includes Mogadishu, and a case in
Somaliland. Another nine cases have also been reported in the Dadaab
refugee camp in Kenya.
"Lack of access to routine immunization in Somalia has created the
largest known reservoir of unvaccinated children in a single geographic
area in the world. The total number of Somali children who had never
been vaccinated between 2008 and 2012 was estimated to reach a million,"
says Sikander Khan, UNICEF Somalia Representative.
"The poliovirus in such a large reservoir has the potential to result
in a catastrophic outbreak, the likes of which are beginning to be seen
and as such constitutes an international emergency."
With the support of UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO),
Somali communities have launched emergency vaccination campaigns to
boost their low polio vaccination coverage. Currently Somalia has the
second lowest coverage of polio vaccination through routine immunization
in the world at 47 per cent after Equatorial Guinea.
So far, polio vaccines were prepared for six immunization campaigns
between May and August, and five rounds have already been carried out.
However, vaccines for additional campaigns between September and
December have not yet been secured.
The announcement of Japan's emergency grant came in at a time when a
shortage of polio vaccines is predicted for the upcoming months. The
funds will cover more than 5 million doses of oral polio vaccines for
two rounds of Supplementary Immunization Activities for November and
More than 2.8 million children under 10 years are expected to benefit from Japan's support.
UNICEF has been working to support partners and local communities to
minimize the scale of this outbreak. However, frequent movement of
people within and between Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan could
transport the virus further from Somalia to the entire Horn of Africa.
"To halt the spread of the virus within Somalia and across the
region, it will require concerted efforts from all partners including
the donors as demonstrated by this generous contribution from the people
of Japan," Mr. Khan said.
Before the new outbreak, the worldwide number of polio cases had
decreased by more than 99 per cent from 350,000 in 1988 to 223 cases in
2012 with active cases reported in only three endemic countries:
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. The outbreak in Somalia, if not
controlled quickly, could jeopardize global efforts to wipe out polio
once and for all.