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Polio Can Be Stopped With Continued Support From International Community

“Six years after Somalia’s last case of polio, the country has become the epicenter of a fresh outbreak in the Horn of Africa,” Siddharth Chatterjee, the chief diplomat and head of strategic partnerships and international relations at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, writes in the Huffington Post U.K.’s “Impact” blog. He notes “128 cases have been reported in Somalia, 13 in Kenya and one in Ethiopia,” adding, “Yet because of careful planning and an aggressive, dedicated response by international organizations, national governments and local health workers and volunteers, the real heroes, we are on track to contain this outbreak and protect the outstanding progress we’ve made.” However, he notes, “Executing effective emergency health responses in a country such as Somalia is complex,” as “[o]ngoing violence and mobile populations make it difficult for vaccinators to reach vulnerable communities.”

“These and other challenges exacerbate Somalia’s low routine immunization rate,” Chatterjee continues. However, he writes, “these challenges are not unprecedented. From Cambodia to El Salvador, the program has interrupted transmission despite armed conflict.” He highlights “an emergency response protocol lauded as a major success by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s (GPEI) Independent Monitoring Board” and formalized by the WHO after a 2005 outbreak in the Horn, and adds, “Successes and lessons learned from prior experiences have equipped the GPEI with a robust set of tactics to immunize hard-to-reach children.” He continues, “This May, the GPEI launched the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan, which integrated the outbreak response protocol, access tactics and other approaches into a multi-prong strategy that, if successful, will end polio by 2018.” He details the response in the Horn, which “has followed this plan,” and concludes, “With the support of the U.K. and the rest of the international community, we will finish the job against polio and prove what’s possible when the world unites to protect children’s lives” (9/4).