Despite the absence of a central government, Somalia has managed to conquer polio, reporting its last case in 2002 and organizing a major new immunization campaign starting today, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.
Tens of thousands of vaccinators started out on a three-day trek to find and vaccinate every child younger than 5 on the first 2004 National Immunization Day (NID).
“If polio can be stopped in Somalia, it can be stopped anywhere. This success is a testament to the will of the Somali people and the effectiveness of strategies in place to stop the virus,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said.
“If the remaining six endemic countries employ these strategies with equal determination, the world’s children will be finally free of this crippling disease.”
The six countries are Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Niger, Nigeria and Pakistan, UNICEF said.
In the previous eight years of campaigns, the vaccinators have reached 90 per cent of Somali children, even though the infrastructure was devastated after years of civil conflict and although vaccinators sometimes have had to be guarded on their journeys by militias.
“There is no question of resistance to immunization in Somalia. Somalis are determined to immunize their children, despite the huge challenges they face,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Somalia, Jesper Morch.
Despite the victory in Somalia, the global eradication campaign has been threatened by the suspension of immunization activities in Kano State, Nigeria, due to resistance by some local Islamic groups, allowing the virus to re-infect eight neighbouring and formerly polio-free countries in west and central Africa, UNICEF said.