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Japan Steps up to Help Stop Polio Outbreak in Somalia
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 December.

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.


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