Increasing numbers of children paralysed by polio in Somalia
By Susannah Price
9 July 2013, Mogadishu. Since the first tragic case of polio in Somalia for six years was discovered in the capital Mogadishu, nearly 50 children have suffered paralysis as a result of the virus. And that number is expected to rise. Most of the children are in and around Mogadishu – where it was confirmed in May that a two year old called Najmo had become the first victim since 2007.
Experts say that the fact this number of children are showing paralysis symptoms means that there are probably thousands more with the virus, and capable of spreading it, who do not have symptoms.
During the last outbreak which started in 2005, 228 children suffered some form of paralysis after becoming infected with polio. Many came from families who were displaced from their homes by conflict or famine and forced to live in basic shelters made of polythene sheets in camps. There is no cure for polio and little help available for those who contract it.
Eight year old Faisa Abdullahi lives in an IDP camp. Her family moved to Mogadishu when their cattle died. She caught polio during the last outbreak as she had not been vaccinated and now can only walk with the help of sticks. In her school, which is a tent at the camp, there are three others who have polio.
“Sometimes my legs are very sore and I can't stand up,” she said. “I was the only one in my family to get sick like this but in my school there are three of them who are sick like me. We all have to walk with sticks. Some of the children are not very nice to us because of this. But they don't understand what it is like to be sore like this. It is OK though because my family are nice to me.”
The authorities have launched emergency vaccinations campaigns to try to prevent the current outbreak from spreading further. Some cases have been reported in neighbouring Kenya.
So far four vaccination campaigns have been carried out. During the last round held earlier this month, children and adults in South Central Zone which includes Mogadishu were vaccinated including Parliamentarians. This is because many in that area were never vaccinated and are at high risk and it is hoped this will help to stop the poliovirus circulation at the earliest opportunity. In Somaliland and Puntland, where no cases have been reported so far, children under 5 were vaccinated. In all six million people were targeted.
The next country-wide campaign is planned for 18 – 21 August for all children under 10 years and others campaigns will follow in the next few months.