Rotary steps up to new polio challenge




With the new polio outbreak in Somalia less than a week ago, the Rotary club of Tanzania has approved a US$500,000 Rapid Response grant to ensure that immunisation activities proceed without interruption and to minimise the risk of spread to neighbouring countries.

According to a statement availed to The Guardian yesterday the Rotary grant to the World Health Organization (WHO) will cover operational costs, including human resources, training, and transportation of health workers during immunisation activities.

The statement said until polio is eradicated, outbreaks are anticipated and a plan to address them has been built into the long term strategy for the programme, which includes the set-up of a rapid response team.

In addition to the Rotary funds, the governments of the United Kingdom and Japan recently announced financial commitments of US$15.3 million and US$1.3 million, respectively, to fund similar emergency vaccination campaigns in the Horn of Africa.

The UK’s assistance will allow the WHO to immunise 6.1 million most at risk people in Somalia, northern Kenya and other countries in the region. The United Nations has warned that without further support the disease could quickly develop into an epidemic across East Africa and put countless lives and livelihoods at risk.
This new funding is in addition to a £300 million pledge by the United Kingdom to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative made in April 2013.

Japan’s emergency grant will pay for more than 5 million doses of oral polio vaccines for two rounds of Supplementary Immunization Activities for November and December. More than 2.8 million children under the age of 10 are expected to be reached in these campaigns.

As of August 14 this year there have been 110 cases of wild poliovirus reported in the Horn of Africa- 100 cases in Somalia, and 10 cases in Kenya.

The outbreak in Somalia occurred in the Banadir Region of the country, where a large number of children had not been vaccinated against polio due to inaccessibility. This is the first outbreak in Somalia since 2007 and in Kenya since 2011.

Dr Stephen Mulesha, a Program Manager with East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECA-HC), an intergovernmental organization, said the situation in Somalia was worrying.

He said currently there were 95 confirmed cases in Somalia and 10 cases in the Somali refugee camps in Kenya. This has put risk the lives of people in Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Djibouti, Eritrea, Yemen and others.
There had also been reported cases of polio in DRC and Uganda but he termed the Horn of Africa situation as much worrying due to the importations of the wild polio virus.

He said the Ministry of Health in Kenya has taken immediate measures by rounding up children in the Dabaab refugee camp and vaccinating them. Dr. Muleshi, who is in charge of Infectious Diseases at the Arusha-based regional health body, hinted the worsening polio situation could necessitate vaccination of adults in areas considered most vulnerable.