8 September 2006 In the largest-ever synchronized vaccination campaign in the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya will simultaneously vaccinate millions of children under five years of age starting this weekend, the United Nations World Health Organization (said.
Polio-free for almost three years, Somalia became re-infected last year with a poliovirus imported from Yemen, WHO said, and has since seen some 215 confirmed cases. Since its re-infection in December 2004, Ethiopia has reported a total of 37 polio cases with four out of 11 regions infected. The high-risk areas remain the cross-border region of Somali, Ethiopia and north/central areas of Somalia. Kenya has been polio-free for the last 22 years.
The upcoming drive will involve teams on the ground ensuring that every child is vaccinated by moving from house to house, in cities, towns, and villages, and in hard to reach areas, using all transportation means possible, such as camels, horses and donkeys.
The polio eradication effort in the Horn also involves religious and community leaders, women’s groups, youth associations, schools, and governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), all working to prevent the paralysis of children, WHO said.
The complex operating and unstable environments, exacerbated by recurrent drought and floods in Somalia and heavy rains in Ethiopia, continue to hamper the implementation of high-quality polio immunization campaigns, according to the agency. International and national staff have difficulties accessing conflict zone areas.
Depending on the availability of funds, three synchronized campaigns are planned for this year, in September, November and December in the Horn of Africa, WHO said. But globally, there is a funding gap of $50 million for 2006, which the agency said in a news release “must be filled urgently by October to ensure the implementation of planned activities through the end of the year.”
If these funds are not mobilized, it warned, “immunization campaigns may need to be scaled back, which would result in more children being paralyzed.”