Somalia launches campaign to vaccinate adults as well as children against polio

President Mohamoud first in line to be vaccinated

A health worker marks the finger of the President of Somalia to indicate that he has been vaccinated against polio.
A health worker marks the finger of the President of Somalia to indicate that he has been vaccinated against polio. Courtesy Office of the President

Mogadishu, Somalia – President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud was first in line to receive a polio vaccine as Somalia’s senior government officials gathered today at the Presidential Villa to launch Somalia’s first-ever polio campaign to vaccinate adults as well as children. This round of the campaign runs from 12 – 19 June, targeting different areas.

In Banadir Region – which includes the capital Mogadishu, where the first case was identified – adults as well as children are being given polio vaccination in an effort to stop the outbreak before it spreads into other regions and possibly into neighbouring countries. While polio mainly affects young children, adults can also catch the virus.
Somalia reported its first case of wild polio for more than six years on 9 May. Already 12 children have been paralyzed , including a 13-year old boy, all in southern Somalia. A further five cases have also been confirmed across the border in Kenya.

As part of the effort to stop one of the world’s only polio outbreaks in a previously polio-free country, the Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, Speaker of the House, Mohamed Osman Jawari, the Minister of Defence Abdikarin Hajji Mohamud Fiqi,and the Minister of Human Development and Public Services Dr Maryan Qasim all lined up to receive the drops of the oral polio vaccine.

“Polio has returned to Somalia after more than six years and now threatens not only our children but anyone who has not been vaccinated,” said President Hassan. “This is why we will be vaccinating everyone in Banadir, mothers, fathers, teenagers and elders as well as children. I call on the entire community to support this important health campaign. The vaccine is safe and effective and I will take it to ensure that I am protected.”

The launch was attended by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, Philippe Lazzarini and the World Health Organization and UNICEF representatives Dr Ghulam Popal and Sikander Khan, who also took the vaccine.

“The leadership and oversight that both the President and Prime Minister have shown today in launching this polio campaign should be commended,” said Philippe Lazzarini.

“Since confirmation of the polio outbreak on 9 May, two campaigns have already been conducted in Somalia delivering lifesaving vaccines to children at risk of life long paralysis. This week more than four million Somalis will be vaccinated against polio in just eight days – an incredible achievement. The United Nations will continue to support the Somali people in every way possible in their efforts to rid the country of this preventable disease.”

Health experts are worried that the polio virus could spread into other parts of Somalia, including areas where many children and adults have not received adequate vaccinations, as well as internationally. To protect against any such spread, the response is taking several approaches. These include vaccination of different age groups and the set-up of permanent vaccination posts in places bordering areas with large numbers of unvaccinated people. Campaigns will continue to be conducted until polio is once more eliminated from Somalia.

The President expressed confidence that Somalia can again become polio free and thanked partners and supporters gathered at the launch.

“Somalia with the help of many partners and friends has eradicated polio before. On behalf of the Somali people I would like to thank the United Nations, WHO and UNICEF for their continued efforts to assist us develop as a nation with strong health systems and services. Together we can make a stronger, better, healthier Somalia where people can live and flourish free from the threat of preventable diseases like polio.”

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