Somalia battling polio outbreak

11/06/2019 Posted by admin

Aid workers in war-torn Somalia are struggling to contain a dangerous outbreak of the crippling polio virus, with rampant insecurity hampering efforts, the United Nations says.

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Six years after the Horn of Africa nation was declared free of the virus, at least 105 cases have been confirmed in Somalia, the “worst outbreak in the world in a non-endemic country”, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Friday.

Its warning came just two days after medical aid charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced it was pulling out of Somalia after more than two decades, a move that affects hundreds of thousands of needy people.

“The polio outbreak plaguing Somalia has spread despite significant efforts to curb the disease,” OCHA added in a statement.

While some four million people have been vaccinated, getting drugs to more than 600,000 children in southern and central Somalia – areas partly under control of the al-Qaeda linked Shabab, who block vaccination efforts – is “extremely challenging”, it said.

“The inability to fully access these areas constitutes a major threat to the control of the outbreak,” it said, warning that “Somalia remains one of the most difficult and dangerous environments in the world for aid workers.”

While more than 100 cases of polio have been recorded, “the fact that this number of children show symptoms of paralysis means that there are probably thousands more with the virus, who do not have symptoms, but are capable of spreading it”, OCHA added.

Around 10 cases have also been reported in northeastern Kenya, which hosts almost half a million Somali refugees in sprawling camps.

In Somalia, while the bulk of cases are in the southern and central regions, the outbreak has also spread to self-declared independent Somaliland in the northwest.

With only 223 polio cases worldwide recorded last year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number affected in Somalia is alarming, although cases worldwide have dropped by over 99 per cent from some 350,000 in 1988.

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