- Great efforts are now being made to prevent the polio virus from re-entering Somalia and Somaliland. Eradicated here in 2002, the paralysing disease is at the two countries' doorstep, closing in from both Ethiopia and Yemen. Emergency vaccinations are now planned in Somaliland and north-eastern Somalia (Puntland).
With polio emerging in two countries near to Somalia and Somaliland, the UN's public health agency is now launching nationwide anti-polio drives in the two countries to protect millions of children from the paralysing virus, the UN reports.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva is leading the large "emergency immunisation" campaigns in Somaliland and Puntland, which later will head on to southern Somalia. "The outbreaks of polio in Ethiopia and Yemen, coupled with large population movements between Somalia and its neighbours, have put Somali children at risk of polio," said David Heymann, Polio Eradication Representative at WHO.
The polio virus now at Somaliland's and Somalia's doorsteps has its origin in Northern Nigeria, where religious authorities stopped the worldwide immunisation campaign for one year, based on conspiracy theories. Polio, which was on its way to become globally eradicated, thus was able to start spreading from Nigeria again, and the virus has moved into countries that had eliminated the disease years ago.
From Northern Nigeria and Niger, the virus rapidly spread to most West African countries. Lately, polio has also spread eastwards through Chad. Over the past 12 months the disease had also broken out in Sudan, infecting 152 children there. From Sudan, the virus has entered Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula.
WHO now fears a further spread on the Horn and towards East Africa if the virus is not stopped by emergency immunisation, such as the ones planned for Somalia and Somaliland. "It is crucial that all efforts are made to ensure that the polio virus is not allowed to reverse the gains made so far in Somalia," the WHO representative for Somalia, Ibrahim Betelmal, said.
WHO said that, together with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), it has organised tens of thousands of volunteers, health workers and parents, as well as community, religious and traditional leaders, to move from house-to-house and village-to-village across the two countries to hand-deliver the polio vaccine to every child under age 5.
Immunisation would be carried out this weekend in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, on 18 to 20 June in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, and from 24 to 26 June in the south and central areas of the Somalia.
According to WHO, vaccinators would initially use a recently developed oral polio vaccine, which has been known to boost children's immunity more rapidly than the commonly used vaccine. Further campaigns would take place in July, August and September, WHO said in a statement.
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