Somalia Experiences Worst Polio Outbreak Worldwide

A lack of security forces and low immunization rates have caused the infectious virus to rear its head in this East African country.

Posted: 07/24/2013 02:25 PM EDT

International health agencies are scrambling to stomp out a worsening polio outbreak in Somalia. The crippling virus flared up in the past few months, interrupting the East African nation’s nearly six-month long polio-free run.

A recent report by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative numbered the most recent sum of polio cases in the Horn of Africa at 72, an overwhelming amount compared to the 59 cases counted in the rest of the world, combined.

When the number of children infected with polio across the globe dropped to an all-time low of 223 last year, the multibillion dollar effort implemented to drive out the virus had proved its cost. So, after a 2-year-old girl in Mogadishu was diagnosed with polio in May, health workers rushed to prevent the virus from spreading to other regions.  

"We have an outbreak in a population that has been quite vulnerable for quite some time," Dr. Nasir Yusuf told NPR, pointing out that a majority of children in Somalia have never been immunized against polio.

The World Health Organization, U.N.I.C.E.F and government officials have teamed up to stymie the worst polio outbreak worldwide through emergency vaccinations and campaigns, but a lack of security throughout vast regions of the country has prevented them from reaching a large part of the population. This outbreak also presents a crucial problem for the nations to which the virus had previously been isolated — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, with whom many resources must now be shared.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)

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