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Somalia Successfully Eliminates Polio

March 31, 2008

A large-scale immunization campaign is often challenging, but getting almost 2 million children vaccinated during widespread civil conflict is a massive undertaking. But, that is what Somalian health officials had to do to make sure that their country was free of polio.

Somalia had been polio-free since 2002, but suffered reinfection in 2005 by poliovirus originating in Nigeria. Rising insecurity, extreme poverty and large population movements throughout the country posed significant challenges to reaching the thousands of children in need.

Polio used to be a more common fate for children throughout the world. In the late 1980s, more than 350,000 children were paralyzed by polio every year. But, in the last 20 years, a global effort to vaccinate children led by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has resulted in a more than 99 percent disease reduction. Polio has been entirely eliminated in all but four countries worldwide. We have been an active participant in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

The Somali people realized that it would take an intensive eradication effort to prevent further spread of the disease and eliminate future infection in their county. With support from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, they undertook broad community engagement and targeted strategic immunizations. Over two years and in the middle of difficult political times, 10,000 Somali volunteers and health workers vaccinated more than 1.8 million children under the age of 5.

In March 2008, the country confirmed the elimination of the poliovirus among their entire population—a major landmark in the effort to eradicate the disease worldwide. Despite being plagued by violence and civil strife, the country has not reported a single case of the virus since March 25, 2007.

The incredible success in Somalia demonstrates that public health campaigns can flourish even under difficult and repressive circumstances. Through this historic achievement it becomes evident that, no matter the challenges, poliovirus can be eradicated everywhere, and no child need ever again suffer the terrible pain of lifelong polio paralysis.