UNICEF e-newsletter

Polio case triggers public health emergency in Kenya 2 November 2006

As escalating factional violence in Somalia triggers an influx of refugees into neighbouring Kenya, a child living in a camp along the border has been diagnosed with polio – Kenya’s first reported case in 22 years.

“On September 17, a three-year-old girl was brought by her mother to a hospital in Hagadera refugee camp in Daadab, northeastern Kenya. She was suffering from paralysis,” explains UNICEF Communication Officer Sara Cameron. Within a month, medical authorities in Kenya and abroad confirmed that the little girl had polio.

The girl was born and has lived her whole life in the refugee camp – one of three in Daadab housing more than 162,000 people in overcrowded facilities.

“The risk of polio appearing again in Kenya is really quite high, because polio travels easily, particularly in unsanitary conditions,” says Ms. Cameron. “We don't know if it was brought in by refugees, but what we do know is that we have a really serious public health emergency in Kenya.”

In response, UNICEF and its partners have moved quickly to prevent any more children from contracting the crippling and sometimes fatal disease – which the Global Polio Eradication Initiative is working hard to wipe from the face of the earth.

The Kenyan Government, UNICEF and the World Health Organization are now preparing to deliver polio vaccination to all children under the age of five in the five districts closest to the border with Somalia. UNICEF is also raising funds to carry out two rounds of national immunization days, commencing in January and reaching 5.5 million Kenyan children.

“We know that polio is a highly infectious disease. It can travel very, very quickly,” says Ms. Cameron. “We all have to work together to make sure that it really doesn’t spread any further.”

For every child
Health, Education, Equality, Protection

Polio in refugee camps
© UNICEF Kenya/2006/Cameron

Thousands of families now in Kenya have fled violence in neighbouring Somalia. Crowded conditions in refugee camps increase the risk of disease, including polio.

Audio: UNICEF Communication Officer Sara Cameron reports on the discovery of a polio case in a Kenyan refugee camp.
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Related Links:

Conflict over scarce resources in Somalia

Immunization Plus: Eradicating polio


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