MOGADISHU, Somalia – The world has made significant advances in stopping polio from spreading. The number of polio cases worldwide has decreased by more than 99 percent from 350,000 in 1988 to 223 cases in 2012. However, Somalia is now facing a crisis with a recent outbreak of the virus. Currently the virus has paralyzed 95 Somali children and threatens hundreds of thousands of children who are not vaccinated against polio.
“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.
Somalia has one of the lowest polio vaccination coverage with only 47 percent of its population protected. There is a great risk that the polio virus could spread from Somalia to the Horn of Africa due to the frequent movement of people across borders in that region. The outbreak must be controlled quickly and UNICEF, along with partners, has begun efforts to stop the outbreak.
The Japanese government has also extended its hand to help in the crisis. It just granted $1.3 million to help UNICEF procure and distribute polio vaccinations. So far, polio vaccinations were prepared for six immunization campaigns between May and August, and five rounds have been completed. However, vaccines for additional campaigns between September and December have yet to be secured.
The grant from the Japanese government will benefit more than 2.8 million children under the age of 10 and will cover more than 5 million doses of oral polio vaccines.“The outbreak in Somalia, if not controlled quickly, could jeopardize global efforts to wipe out polio once and for all,” UNICEF warned.
– Catherine Ulrich