The Somali government, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) have kicked off a national polio immunization campaign aiming to reach about 3.1 million children under the age of five.

Somalia health minister Fauziya Abikar Nur said the four-day exercise is part of ongoing efforts to sustain polio immunity and protection in response to the outbreaks of two strains of poliovirus currently circulating.

“We are appealing to every parent, caregiver and adult in Somalia to ensure that their children and every child they know, especially those that might have been missed being vaccinated last year, or were recently born, receive this polio vaccine,” Nur said in a joint statement issued in Mogadishu.

“We all have a role to play to protect Somalia’s children, our legacy, from entirely preventable infections and paralysis,” she added.

WHO country representative Mamunur Malik said they are reaching out to partners in every field for support in getting access to under-immunized children, especially from families on the move or residing in hard-to-reach areas to boost their immunity and protect them against polio.

The Horn of African nation has been free of wild poliovirus since 2014 while the two strains of polioviruses currently circulating were detected in late 2017 and have left 12 children paralyzed so far, according to WHO.

WHO, UNICEF and the Somali government have conducted three national immunization campaigns and nine sub-national campaigns since December 2017 to stop further spread of the polioviruses.

These campaigns, the UN health agency said, delivered three different types of polio vaccine to convey protection against all types of polioviruses.

“Despite these efforts, more can be done. Until the time when polio is eradicated from every country worldwide, there will always be a risk for countries like Somalia, where children’s polio immunity is low and where there are children who cannot regularly access routine immunization programs,” said Jesper Moller, acting UNICEF Somalia representative.

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