Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP
Health workers vaccinate a boy against polio at a May immunization drive in Mogadishu, Somalia.
A big worry among people trying to wipe out polio is that the
virus will regain a foothold, somewhere to launch a comeback —
someplace, perhaps, like Somalia.
Polio has paralyzed 25 kids
in Somalia and another six in a Kenyan refugee camp since early May, the
Global Polio Eradication Initiative Wednesday. Before this outbreak, Somalia hadn't had a polio case in more than five years.
were only 223 polio cases around the world in 2012, the lowest ever
recorded. Even in the remaining three endemic countries — Afghanistan,
Pakistan and Nigeria — polio was only showing up isolated in a few
This outbreak in Somalia could threaten that progress.
The recent cases are probably just the tip of the iceberg, says ,
from the World Health Organization. "The last time we saw an outbreak
in this part of the world it involved Yemen, most of the countries in
the Horn of Africa, Sudan and led to about 700 cases," Bari says.
is a tough place to fight polio. It has very low rates of immunization
for most diseases, including polio. Vaccination teams can't even enter
parts of Somalia because of violence.
Just last week, Islamic extremists a suicide attack on the United Nations headquarters in Mogadishu. After a 90-minute gun battle, 22 people at the compound died.
the security problems in Somalia, emergency responses to the polio
cases are underway. Local health officials in Somalia have launched
three massive vaccination drives, Bari says, and Kenya has already
carried out two special immunization campaigns in the refugee camp.
outbreaks like these occur, she says, the goal is to break the
poliovirus's transmission cycle by trying to get more than 90 percent of
the local population vaccinated.
"The virus is looking for
children in which it can circulate," Bari says. "The virus can't live
out in the sewage or in the environment on its own. So it needs human
beings. And it looks for people who are not immune, who are going to
allow it to continue transmitting."
This outbreak is still in
its early stages, she says. And WHO expects to see more polio cases
reported from Somalia in the coming weeks. But, Bari says, polio workers
are hopeful that the emergency vaccination campaigns are reaching
enough children to slow the spread of the virus.
been 77 polio cases reported worldwide so far this year, compared with
84 to this point in 2012. But almost half of this year's cases have
occurred in Somalia and Kenya.