1488: Somalia Polio Free
- Somalia scores `historic' polio-free achievement
By Dan Nixon and Vivian Fiore
In a triumph over violence, poverty, and poor infrastructure, Somalia
has once again become polio-free. The Global Polio Eradication
Initiative (GPEI) announced on 25 March that the West African nation
hasn't reported a case of polio since a year ago. Although it
eradicated the disease in 2002, Somalia became reinfected in 2005 by
poliovirus originating in Nigeria, resulting in an outbreak of 228
Innovative approaches tailored to conflict areas were pivotal in
conquering polio in Somalia. More than 10,000 volunteers and health
workers used several doses of monovalent vaccines to immunize
children in insecure areas in a short period. With strong community
support, the effort succeeded in reaching more than 1.8 million
children under age five across one of the most dangerous countries on
"This truly historic achievement shows that polio can be eradicated
everywhere, even in the most challenging and difficult settings,"
says Dr. Hussein A. Gezairy, director of the World Health
Organization's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office.
One of Somalia's volunteers and health workers is Ali Mao Moallim,
the last person on earth to contract smallpox the first disease
eradicated worldwide in 1977. Working with the World Health
Organization, he has traveled extensively in his country to immunize
children against polio and promote community support for immunization
campaigns. "Somalia was the last country with smallpox," he says. "I
wanted to help ensure that we would not be the last place with polio
"Somalia beat polio in the midst of more widespread conflict and
poverty than that affecting Afghanistan and Pakistan," says Dr.
Maritel Costales, a UNICEF senior health adviser in New York, who
cited the challenges of overcoming widespread insecurity and large
population movements in a country with no central government. "But
Somalia shows that when communities are engaged, children everywhere
can be reached."
Afghanistan and Pakistan, which together accounted for 5 percent of
all polio cases in 2007, could be the first of the four remaining
endemic countries the other two are India and Nigeria to end
Consistent financial commitment continues to be crucial to polio
eradication. Rotary International, the top private-sector contributor
and volunteer arm of the GPEI, has contributed US$9.2 million for
polio eradication in Somalia and $700 million worldwide since 1985.
The global effort faces a shortage of $525 million for 2008-09,
funding urgently needed to fight the disease in the remaining endemic
countries and protect children in high-risk polio-free areas.
"Somalia clearly shows that the tailored tools and tactics of the
intensified eradication effort are working," says Mohamed Benmejdoub,
chair of Rotary's Eastern Mediterranean PolioPlus Committee. "A polio-
free world is a feasible public health goal and a global public good.
I urge governments across the world and in particular the G-8
countries to rapidly make available the necessary resources.
Together, we can ensure that no child need ever again suffer the
terrible pain of lifelong polio paralysis."
Source: Rotary International News