The United Nations refugee agency has voiced its concern over reports of two suspected polio cases this week among Somali refugees living in camps in Ethiopia and three cases in the surrounding community.
“The immediate priority is to confirm the outbreak, and samples have been collected and sent to Addis Ababa for laboratory confirmation,” said spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Melissa Fleming at a press briefing in Geneva.
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR is working closely with the Ethiopian ministry of health, the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other health partners to coordinate the response in the five refugee camps in Dollo Ado, where the cases were reported.
“Once the strain of virus is identified, the appropriate vaccine will be dispatched to Dollo Ado for a mass vaccination campaign in the camps and surrounding communities,” she said.
In addition, a nationwide anti-polio campaign is scheduled to start on 27 January and will be expanded to include all refugee camps.
A highly infectious disease caused by a virus, polio invades the nervous system
and leads to irreversible paralysis in one out of 200 cases. Only three
countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – remain polio-endemic today, and
the number of cases has declined drastically in the past 25 years.
Ms. Fleming stressed that UNHCR and other agencies have strengthened its surveillance to identify other potential polio cases. “At community level, mobilization and sensitization efforts have been stepped up to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of polio and ways to prevent transmission.
“As the polio virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, our partners providing water and sanitation are being engaged to ensure delivery of adequate services,” she added.
According to UNHCR, some 143,000 Somalis are currently sheltered in five Ethiopian camps in Dollo Ado, which is now the second largest refugee settlement in the Horn of Africa. Almost one million Somalis live as refugees in the region while another 1.36 million are internally displaced.