A Somalian child is vaccinated against polio during a nationwide immunization campaign Christine McNab/WHO

NAIROBI, Kenya, 20 March 2011 – On the eve of celebrating four years without polio in Somalia, the country kicks off National Immunization Days on Sunday 20 March, with a focus on ensuring that no eligible child is left unvaccinated during the three days of the campaign. During 2011, two rounds of polio vaccinations are planned.

WHO Representative for Somalia, Dr Marthe Everard, noted the success of the polio immunization efforts in Somalia. “Somalia marks on 25 March 2011 the 4th anniversary of being polio-free. This shows that polio can be eradicated everywhere, even in the most challenging and difficult settings,” she said. “With Somalia still being at risk from polio virus importation and spread from countries where the virus is still circulating, we must remain ever-vigilant to do all efforts to maintain high immmunity of children under the age of five.”

This week’s National Immunization Days will play a critical role in protecting the Somali children from the crippling disease. During these days, over 1.8 million children under the age of five will be targeted across the country. The campaign is being spearheaded by health authorities at national and local levels, in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF, other polio eradication partners and the Somali communities.

UNICEF Representative for Somalia, Rozanne Chorlton, underlined the need to reach every child, saying “If we are to ensure that no new cases of polio emerge in Somalia, vaccination teams must be able to access every community, every household, and every child aged under-five.”

Insecurity and inaccessibility in some parts of the country, especially in South Central regions, remains a major concern to reach out to all targetted children . South Central Somalia is home to an estimated 70% of all children aged under-five. In 2010, over 800,000 children missed out on the opportunity to receive the two polio drops. The WHO and UNICEF Representatives have called on all parties to the ongoing conflict to respect the humanitarian mandate of the vaccination teams, and guarantee their safe passage across the country.

The Somali National Immunization Days are supported through financial contributions from a number of donors including the governments of Italy, Germany, and Norway, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Rotary International. Each round of polio vaccination is estimated to cost around US$ 1 million.

Attack a stark reminder of the dangers faced by public health workers.

Osman Hussein Ibrahim (left), District Polio Officer in Mogadishu, Somalia,was tragically killed while on polio duties on 22 August. WHO

On the morning of 22 August 2010, Mr Osman Hussein Ibrahim, District Polio Officer in Mogadishu, Somalia, was shot and killed by a stray bullet while on his way to supervise polio National Immunization Days (NIDs) and Child Health Days.

Born in 1961 in Lower Shabelle, Somalia, Mr Ibrahim began work with the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2001. He was instrumental in helping eradicate polio from the country, including following re-infection in 2005. A committed, highly-motivated, hard-working team player, Mr Ibrahim was known for his ability to work effectively under very difficult conditions – his nearly ten years of service for polio eradication in Mogadishu (the most dangerous place in Somalia) being a clear testament to this. In a separate incident on 24 August, District Polio Officer Mr Muse Ahmed Janago sustained injuries resulting from flying mortar fragments, in Mogadishu. Following treatment at a hospital, he was thankfully released and has already returned to duty, preparing for NIDs in September.

These tragic incidents are stark reminders of the risks faced by those working to eradicate polio in many parts of the world.

Throughout the 20 years of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, vaccinators and other polio staff have faced the risk of murder, assault, kidnapping and natural disasters on all continents, despite UN security measures. The vast majority of these workers are volunteers; nearly all – staff and volunteers – live and work in remote or disadvantaged areas, to ensure that every child has access to vaccination.

The Polio Eradication Heroes Fund recognizes health workers and volunteers who have incurred serious injury or lost their lives as a direct consequence of their participation in polio eradication activities. The families of the workers receive a certificate recognizing the victim’s heroic commitment to polio eradication and a cash tribute.

Those wishing to give may do so online or by contacting the Polio Eradication Heroes Fund at the CDC Foundation, 50 Hurt Plaza – Suite 765, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA.

10000 health workers stop polio in one of most dangerous places on earth

Polio immunization of a nomadic child. Frequent population movements across Somalia meant that children of nomadic populations were at particular risk of polio.

Polio immunization of a nomadic child. Frequent population movements across Somalia meant that children of nomadic populations were at particular risk of polio.

25 March 2008, Geneva, Switzerland – Somalia is again polio-free, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) announced today, calling it a ‘historic achievement’ in public health. Somalia has not reported a case since 25 March 2007, a landmark moment in the intensified eradication effort launched last year to wipe out the disease in the remaining few strongholds.

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