Somalia as polio spreads UNbacked vaccination campaign gets underway

With the spread of polio to previously disease-free regions of Somalia raising the logistical problem of reaching strife-torn areas while threatening neighbouring countries, further funds are needed for a United Nations-backed vaccination campaign now underway to immunize 1.4 million children against the paralysing scourge. “Somalia has been polio-free before. With safe access for our vaccinators and the support of the community, Somalia can stop polio again,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Ibrahim Betelmal,” said of the campaign that began yesterday. Tens of thousands of volunteers are already working in the campaign against the disease which has paralysed nearly 200 children since last July, but the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed the urgency of millions of dollars in new funding.“To carry out these additional campaigns, we will need an additional $11 million in Somalia alone,” UNICEF Representative Christian Baslev-Olesen said, noting that additional global immunization needs have stretched the resources of the 18-year-old $4 billion effort to eradicate polio worldwideThe two agencies reported that while polio appears to be on the decline in Mogadishu, the capital, formerly the epicentre of the outbreak, it has spread to two new regions – lower Juba, southern Somalia, and Mudug region Northeast Somalia. Both areas were previously unaffected by the current outbreak in the country. Somalia has been riven by factional fighting and has lacked a functioning central government ever since the collapse of President Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime 15 years ago. Continual fighting, banditry and piracy off the Horn of Africa country’s shores have seriously hampered UN humanitarian activities, including the provision of sorely needed food for tens of thousands of hungry Somalis. Only last week, a deadly fire-fight between two militias forced the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to withdraw from a distribution centre in southern Somalia and suspend aid there for victims of a severe drought. read more