WHO, UNICEF call for vaccinating children against polio in Somalia
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are urging parents and caregivers in south and central parts of Somalia to ensure all children aged under five are vaccinated against polio during a special house-to-house immunization campaign, which began yesterday and runs until 23 September. Both agencies are advising health workers and caregivers to observe health and safety measures against COVID-19 during the four-day campaign.
This advice comes in the wake of efforts to curb the spread of the ongoing polio outbreak in the south and central parts of Somalia. The strain of polio that is in circulation is different from the wild poliovirus, recently declared as eradicated from Africa, but it can also put communities where not enough children have been vaccinated at risk and leave children paralyzed for life. The outbreak has paralyzed 19 children since late 2017.
“The only way to stop such outbreaks from vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio, is to vaccinate every child every time immunization services are offered, either through routine programmes or through such mass campaigns. We all have a moral responsibility to reach and boost the immunity of every last child in Somalia. Owing to access, security and health-seeking behaviour, we are missing a large number of children every year, who are not receiving these life-saving vaccines,” said Dr Mamunur Rahman Malik, WHO Representative for Somalia.
During the ongoing campaign, 6 266 vaccinators in urban areas and 2 685 vaccinators in rural areas will be going from door to door to vaccinate 1.65 million children aged under five with oral polio vaccine. In efforts to reach every child possible, an additional 1 125 team supervisors will be visiting households in targeted areas. 3 390 community mobilizers, sensitizing target communities, will play a key role in helping families to understand, trust and accept vaccines.
“It is critical that all routine immunizations continue, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Werner Schultink, UNICEF Representative for Somalia. “These vaccination drives will help prevent further outbreaks and will protect children from deadly diseases so they can survive and thrive.”
Before the campaign, polio health workers were trained and supplied with personal protective equipment, including face masks, soap and hand sanitizer, to keep them and communities safe from COVID-19.
This campaign is the first step in a two-part effort to raise immunity levels among Somali children. Somalia’s Government, WHO and UNICEF will conduct the second part of the campaign in October to continue to strengthen the immunity of Somali children. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to accept the vaccine when it is offered to give their children life-long protection against polio.