UN launches $50 million appeal for final push to eliminate polio from Horn of Africa

UN launches $50 million appeal for final push to eliminate polio from Horn of Africa

With countries in the Horn of Africa “one step away” from being certified as polio-free, the United Nations Children's Fund and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) have launched a $50 million appeal for 2003-05 to immunize 22 million children in the region.

With countries in the Horn of Africa “one step away” from being certified as polio-free, the United Nations Children's Fund and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) have launched a $50 million appeal for 2003-05 to immunize 22 million children in the region.

"Despite the enormous challenge of delivering polio vaccine to children in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, the people of these countries have almost wiped polio out of the Horn," Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO coordinator of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, said at a meeting in Nairobi of the key partners in the anti-polio effort. "By reducing polio cases to near zero, the partnership has demonstrated that polio's days are numbered – even in countries where conflict has otherwise ravaged health systems."

The Initiative has succeeded in reducing the number of polio endemic countries to just 10 at the outset of the year, down from 125 in 1988. In addition, the number of worldwide cases has dropped dramatically, from 350,000 to 483 last year.

So far this year, only two cases have been reported in Somalia and no cases in the other two countries. To achieve this progress, the agency and its partners, including thousands of volunteers, have worked under some of the harshest conditions possible, particularly in Sudan and Somalia where conflict has made the work especially challenging.

“To bring us this far, local vaccinators have often taken huge risks – literally dodging bullets – to get vaccine into the mouths of children,” said Urban Johnson, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “Now the key is to make sure there are no new cases. This costs money.”