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Polio is a highly infectious, debilitating disease which affects children and causes permanent paralysis. Polio is not curable, and can only be prevented by vaccination. Families and communities must ensure their children are vaccinated both during polio campaigns and through routine immunization. The Horn of Africa is currently in emergency with imported poliovirus of circulating vaccine derived polioviruses placing polio eradication as unfinished business. Circulating vaccine Derived-Polio Virus (cVDPV) outbreak was reported recently from Somaliland and the first-round quick response has been conducted in July 2019. Since then four more cases have been reported in Puntland in Somalia, one in Bosaso district, one in Ufyan district, one on the border with Somali region in Ethiopia and one in Dollo Zone Bokh Wareda in Somali Region of Ethiopia.

To this effect, five zones of Somali region of Ethiopia and, Somalia/Somaliland and Puntland from the WHO Africa and Eastern Mediterranean regions respectively jointly launched the synchronized cross border polio vaccination campaign where the Somali region alone targets to reach over half million (586, 511) children whose age are 0-59 months from the five high risk zones namely Fafan, Jarar, Dollo, Erar and Nogob. The overall synchronized target areas involved in Somalia and Ethiopia are Puntland and all regions in Somaliland except one and five zones of Somali region respectively. This made the total target population 1.6 million (Somalia 1.1 M & Ethiopia 586,511).

Mr Abdirazak Seid, Honorable Advisor for the Somali Regional President Office, Dr. Jahwar Yusuf, Deputy Head of Somali Regional Health Bureau, Mr. Abdihakim Sheik Hassen, Chief Administrator of Fafan Zone, Mukhtar Abib, Mayor of Togowajale City Administration, Sheik Ahmed Abi, the religious leader, and Garad Kulmiye, clan leader and Goodwill Ambassador of Immunization for Somali region and partners from WHO, UNICEF, CORE Group, Rotary and save the children were in attendance.

Speaking during the launching event, “Mr. Christopher Alexander, from WHO Regional Office and Coordinator for the GPEI Horn of Africa Office stated that “This synchronized effort is an important activity and really a milestone since it is the first time that the two regions of WHO (AFRO & EMRO) come together to fight the disease. We must make sure no child is unvaccinated. We need to show the commitment that we showed here in the joint launching in the ground to make sure that every community of every child must be vaccinated. Remember the vaccine is a right for a child. We have no reason to let any child paralyzed because of the polio. Vaccine is available, we are committed, so let us reach every child where the child is.”

WHO Ethiopia Representative, Dr Aggrey Bategereza also emphasized the importance of this synchronized campaign by his messaged read on his behalf. Dr Aggrey noted that “The African Regional Certification Commission has declared Ethiopia as a polio free country in June 2017. However, I would like to remind you that being a polio free country do not mean that the game is over. Unless polio is also eradicated from the rest of the world, our region will always remain at risk of outbreak due to importation of the virus.”

Dr Aggrey added that “We are going to start the Holy War against polio outbreak from all corners of Somali. You are the generals of this war. There is no war that we started but lost. We need to finish this war within two months. We don’t have time to think of other things while our children are being paralyzed and disabled for the rest of their life. It is WHO’s belief that, TOGTHER, we can win this Holy War and regain a polio free community.”

These neighboring cross border areas face common challenges with highly mobile population, poor health infrastructure along the common borders and low immunization coverage. Thus, the three countries plan to conduct this synchronized outbreak response campaign between 19-22nd August, 2019 with monovalent oral polio vaccine type2 (mOPV2).

Through the coordination of Ministry of Health and Ethiopian Pubic Health Institute, the necessary resources were mobilized from in and outside the country to conduct a quality campaign and achieve the desired coverage to break the circulation.

This campaign that will be conducted through house-to-house visits by vaccination teams will strive to strengthen and maintain routine immunization and surveillance with a particular focus on pastoralist communities, refugees, hard to reach and border areas as well as strengthening outbreak preparedness, cross-border surveillance and coordination.

Vaccinators, supervisors, social mobilizers, religious leaders and polio champions have been trained and deployed to ensure wide community support and participation. WHO along with other partners including UNICEF, CDC, Core Group and save the children are also supporting this campaign.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO).