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NEW YORK — The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have announced the end of the polio outbreak in Somalia which has affected more than 190 people since 2013.

The announcement came after an Outbreak Assessment Team, comprised of experts from such agencies as WHO, UNICEF, and the Centres for Disease Control, conducted an in-depth review of the polio outbreak response in Somalia in October 2015.

The virus, first detected in a two-year-old girl from Mogadishu in May 2013, quickly spread in the Horn of Africa country and affected 194 people by the end of 2013.

The rapid, coordinated response to the outbreak helped slow the spread of polio, with only five new cases reported in 2014.

The last case was reported in Hobyo district, Mudug on Aug. 11, 2014.

“The Somali authorities have placed polio outbreak response as one of their national priorities and they exerted tremendous effort to ensure children are vaccinated,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq.

“This achievement is a great credit to them and to the brave and committed vaccinators and volunteers who put their lives at risk to save lives of others in need.”

Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesman, said at a daily news briefing that “Somali authorities together with WHO, UNICEF and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative targeted more than 2.1 million children under the age of five in multiple mass immunization campaigns.”

Due to the nature of the outbreak, in some areas children aged from five to 10 and adults were also vaccinated to ensure circulation of poliovirus was stopped.

Child and health experts from WHO and UNICEF, together with Somali nationals, worked under extremely challenging security conditions to ensure effective planning, implementation, and monitoring of 35 vaccination campaigns.

Two UNICEF polio staff were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Garowe, Puntland on April 20.

In Somalia, only around a third of children are routinely vaccinated, with parents often unaware of the importance of vaccination or not having the time, means or transport to take their children to be vaccinated.

Social mobilisers use house-to-house visits to inform the local community about upcoming campaigns and the importance of vaccination.

“The immediate and effective response to the outbreak of this terrible virus was instrumental in bringing it under control and putting a stop to it,” said UNICEF Somalia’s acting Representative Foroogh Foyouzat.

“We are continuing our vaccination campaigns and our goal is to ensure that every single Somali child is protected against this preventable but incurable virus.”

“The tireless efforts of national authorities and their partners in stopping the outbreak are commendable. Our deepest tributes and appreciations go to the field staff who delivered the results in spite of huge challenges in Somalia,” said Ghulam Popal, the WHO Somalia representative.

“Despite this positive news, we cannot be complacent.

“We must continue to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated across the country in the coming months; ensure further strengthening of Polio surveillance system so that polio cannot continue to be transmitted undetected; and to enhance the routine immunization system and coverage.”

Given the security situation in Somalia, frequent population movements across the region, low immunity in key areas and the continuing transmission of polio in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the risk of another importation of the virus remains high and the consequences severe.

Until the risk is reduced, Somalia will continue to implement, at a reduced frequency, mass vaccination campaigns to protect children from polio.

Source: Horn Observer 

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