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Somalia once again polio-free, declares UN health agency

Somalia once again polio-free, declares UN health agency

Polio immunization in Somalia
In what is being described as a major victory in the global fight against polio, the United Nations health agency announced today that the disease has been eradicated in strife-torn Somalia thanks to the efforts of some 10,000 volunteers and health workers across the Horn of Africa nation.

“Against a backdrop of widespread conflict, large population movements and a dearth of functioning government infrastructure, transmission of poliovirus in the country has been successfully stopped,” the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said in a news release.

Somalia has not reported a case of polio since March 2007, a major landmark in the intensified eradication effort launched last year to eradicate the disease in a few remaining countries, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Innovative approaches tailored to conflict areas are being credited for stopping polio – which can cause lifelong paralysis – in the country, including increased community involvement and the effective use of monovalent vaccines to immunize children in insecure areas with several doses, within a short period of time.

More than 10,000 Somali volunteers and health workers repeatedly vaccinated more than 1.8 million children under the age of five by visiting every household in every settlement multiple times.

“Somalia shows that when communities are engaged, children everywhere can be reached,” stated Dr. Maritel Costales, Senior Health Advisor, UNICEF New York.

Somalia, which has not had a functioning national government in almost two decades, had already eradicated the disease in 2002 but became re-infected in 2005 by poliovirus originating in Nigeria. “This truly historic achievement shows that polio can be eradicated everywhere, even in the most challenging and difficult settings,” said Dr. Hussein A Gezairy, Regional Director for WHO’s Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Following a 20-year global effort, the disease has been stopped nearly everywhere in the world with the exception of the remaining four polio-endemic countries – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Stable funding is critical to continuing global eradication efforts. Some $525 million is urgently needed for 2008-2009 to fight the disease in the remaining endemic areas and protect children in high-risk polio-free a