UN to launch second round of polio vaccination drive in Somalia

FILE PHOTO: Health worker tries to immunise a child during a vaccination campaign against polio./PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: A health worker tries to immunize a child during a vaccination campaign against polio./PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/Getty Images)

A second round of polio immunization campaign is set to begin in Somalia on Sunday, targeting 1.65 million children aged under five years, with oral polio vaccine in the south and central regions, the UN said on Saturday.

The four-day campaign will seek to end the currently ongoing outbreak of polio, which has already infected 23 children, the ministry of health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF said in a joint statement issued in Mogadishu.

Fawziya Abikar Nur, acting minister of health, said that the first round of this vaccination campaign demonstrated that Somali health workers can be counted on to deliver vital immunization services safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Using masks, sanitizer, hand washing and physical distancing measures, vaccinators and teams of social mobilizers safely met with families, answered parents’ questions and vaccinated children. Round one was a great success, and we have high expectations for round two,” said Nur.

The two UN agencies and the ministry of health confirmed that 8,951 well-trained health teams will conduct the final round of a two-round house-to-house polio campaign in the central and south regions of the country, from Oct. 25-28.

According to WHO, polio health teams have joined the fight against COVID-19 in Somalia since January, providing support in tracing, tracking and following up with suspected and confirmed cases.

It said although health workers were forced to pause regular health services to attend to the COVID-19 pandemic, last month, Somalia took bold steps to resume regular health activities, by conducting immunization campaigns to stop the spread of a rare strain of poliovirus.

WHO said some of the main challenges Somalia faces include reaching vulnerable children who are difficult to access due to security and other logistical challenges, and assuring caregivers that polio vaccines are safe for newborns.

“Thanks to the strides we have made so far, we would like to believe we are in the final stretch in the polio eradication journey now,” said Mamunur Malik, WHO Representative for Somalia.

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