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The Blog

Polio Outbreak in the Horn of Africa

Polio Outbreak in the Horn of Africa

Kate Holt/Unicef

There has been an outbreak of wild poliovirus in the Horn of Africa. So far this year there have been 100 confirmed cases in Somalia (one of them in Somaliland) and 10 in Kenya. The virus has apparently not yet spread to other countries in the Horn. International efforts are underway to immunize more children throughout the region in hopes it is possible to prevent further spread of the disease.

This is a challenge because of porous borders, many internally displaced people and refugees, and frequent migration of people living in the Horn. The key to stopping the disease is more immunization, which means access to communities throughout the region. Access continues to be a problem in parts of Somalia, South Sudan and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. The Horn of Africa has the largest pocket of under immunized children in the world at an estimated 1 million.

Although 110 cases so far this year in Somalia and Kenya may not sound like a lot, it is important to put the issue in perspective. In 2012, there were only 223 confirmed wild poliovirus cases throughout the world. The numbers for the Horn probably understate the actual situation. You can find current information on this topic at Polio Global Eradication Initiative. The Guardian published on 5 July 2013 a piece titled “Somalia Emergency Polio Vaccination Campaign - in Pictures.”