Vigilance in Somalia and region still needed before the region is declared polio-free once more.
By Shalini Rozario
17 June 2015, Nairobi, Kenya. Government representatives, technical experts, donors, and polio partners gathered on Wednesday, 17 June 2015 to review the polio outbreak status in the Horn of Africa (HOA) Region. The final assessment concluded the following:
- The assessment team commends the overall robust outbreak response in the HOA with strong vaccination, communication strategy and strengthened surveillance.
- The assessment team believes that transmission in Kenya and Ethiopia has been interrupted; however, continued undetected low level transmission cannot be ruled out in Somalia
Overall progress in the region was reviewed since onset of the outbreak in April 2013, which resulted in a total of 223 WPV cases across the region (10 in Ethiopia), and remaining challenges ahead were identified. Chaired by the Horn of Africa polio Technical Advisory Group (TAG) Chair, Dr. Jean-Marc Olive, the meeting gave opportunity to strategically reflect on the current outbreak status and required next steps for all three countries. Dr. Ephrem Tekle, Director of the Maternal and Child Health Directorate, Ethiopia Federal Ministry of Health responded positively to the wild poliovirus (WPV) interruption in Ethiopia, and also acknowledged the work ahead to further improve routine immunisation. “Successes achieved in the polio response are due to the political commitment and the support of partners,” said Dr. Ephrem. “We have been successful on SIAs (supplementary immunisation activities) and NIDs (National Immunisation Days). However, I don’t think we are yet fully successful on routine immunisation; there is a lot to do on routine immunisation even though WPV transmission is interrupted.” Dr. Ephrem acknowledged the strong focus on the involvement of religious and clan leaders in the Somali Region, and mobilisation of the community which have been instrumental to some of the immense achievements in the polio legacy process. He cited an example of community leaders asking for a generator so they could continue routine immunisation services. In moving ahead, Dr. Ephrem stressed the importance of sustaining the polio gains made, using the momentum to improve routine immunisation in the country, and also emphasised the importance to intensify the same efforts in regions bordering South Sudan, such as Benshangul Gumuz and Gambella, in light of the immense population migration. The HOA TAG Chair congratulated Dr. Ephrem and the Ethiopia team on their efforts and wished the country success for strengthening routine immunisation in the country, a challenging task. Closing remarks were provided by governments and partners such as Rotary International, CDC, The Gates Foundation, Red Cross, Core Group, USAID, Communication Initiative, UNICEF, WHO and the HOA TAG Chairman. Next steps for countries include working towards the polio legacy transition plan and using polio assets and achievement to further strengthen routine immunisation and beyond. Countries will continue to implement specific recommendations from the external assessment team, and the outbreak response in Somalia will be assessed again after three months. Following the Somalia assessment, the next HOA TAG meeting in August, and continual monitoring of regional progress, it is hoped that soon, the entire HOA region will be declared “polio-free.”
Through the generous support of polio donors and partners such as the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi, UAE; European Union; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; National Philanthropic Trust; Slim Foundation; Rotary International; Swedish International Development Cooperation; and others, successful interruption of the outbreak in Ethiopia has been achieved. Continued collaboration is critical to sustain gains for polio and routine immunisation for healthy children and families in Ethiopia.