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Nairobi, 22 November 2013: Polio outbreak in Horn of Africa: Tapering off six months on, but no place for complacency

NAIROBI, Kenya, 22 November 2013 - It has been six months since a polio outbreak hit the Horn of Africa, affecting some 200 children and adults in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Today, the progression of the outbreak has significantly eased off, thanks to the rapid response by the region’s governments and their partners. The risk of the virus continuing to spread, however, remains high.

In Somalia, where most of the polio cases are from, after several rounds of immunization campaigns, there has been a substantial decline with no cases reported since July from Banadir region - the epicenter of the outbreak. Similar efforts in Kenya have also borne results, and no new cases have been reported for the past three months. In Ethiopia, the outbreak has been confined to the Somali region alone. 

“While we are pleased with the results achieved thus far, we must remain vigilant as there is still a risk that the virus could spread further, not only within the affected countries, but also cross borders into neighbouring countries,” said Steven Allen, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “Children in this region and elsewhere will not be safe from polio until we reach every unimmunized child.”

Across the Horn of Africa, close to one million children, most of them in Somalia, have never been immunized or have not received the required number of doses. Low immunization coverage was a key factor behind the outbreak, which was also fuelled by frequent population movement and areas of insecurity. 

“WHO and UNICEF have supported countries in their response, working closely with health authorities as well as civil society groups to ensure children everywhere can be vaccinated,” said Hamid Jafari, Director, Polio Operations and Research, WHO.

With the outbreak slowing down, the affected countries are now moving into a new phase of polio outbreak response. The priority is to stop the residual transmission in South Central Somalia and in the Somali region of Ethiopia, reduce vulnerability by boosting immunity of populations and increasing immunization coverage, especially in hard-to-reach and inaccessible parts of the region.

In Somalia, in addition to immunization campaigns, strategies have been put in place to reach the most vulnerable children. Around areas affected by insecurity, 284 permanent vaccination posts have been set up at transit points, and vaccines are readily available in health facilities, so that children moving in or out will not miss out on the opportunity of immunization. In Ethiopia, 28 permanent vaccination points have also been set up in border-crossing and large transit points. 

UNICEF and WHO require at least $88 million to support governments’ polio eradication efforts in 2014 and maintain the momentum built over the last six months.

NOTE TO THE EDITORS:

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments and spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its goal is to eradicate polio worldwide.

For further information on the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, please see www.polioeradication.org.

For further information, please contact:

Sona Bari, WHO Geneva
Tel: +41 227911476 or +41 794755511, sbari@who.int

Kun Li, UNICEF Nairobi
Tel : +254 734 813 983 or +254 20 762 2218, kli@unicef.org

For further information on the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, please see www.polioeradication.org, Rotary International’s PolioPlus site at http://www.rotary.org/foundation/polioplus/, www.cdc.gov, or the polio site on www.unicef.org/polio.

 

 
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