Rotary approves $500,000 emergency grant for Somalia

A child receives the oral polio vaccine during an immunization campaign. As of 14 August, 110 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in the Horn of Africa.
Photo Credit: Iman Morooka/UNICEF

Rotary has approved a $500,000 Rapid Response grant to the World Health Organization (WHO) to address a recent polio outbreak in Somalia. The outbreak occurred in the Banadir region of Somalia, where a large number of children had not been vaccinated against polio due to inaccessibility. 

As of 14 August, 110 cases of wild poliovirus have been reported in the Horn of Africa—100 cases in Somalia and 10 in Kenya. This is the first outbreak in Somalia since 2007 and in Kenya since 2011.

The Rotary grant will cover operational costs, including human resources, training, and transportation of health workers, aimed at immunizing children under 10 in all accessible areas of Somalia in August. 

To date, five vaccination campaigns have been held in Somalia, three in Kenya, two each in Ethiopia and Yemen, and one in Djibouti.  Additional campaigns are planned through the end of the year.

Drawing on lessons learned from previous polio outbreaks, the first vaccination campaign was carried out within a week after the first case was confirmed.

“Until polio transmission is interrupted in the endemic countries, outbreaks such as the one in Somalia are to be expected,” says Dr. Hamid Jafari, director of Polio Research and Operations at WHO. “So long as the budget for the new Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan is fully funded, we’re well-equipped to pursue endemic and outbreak priorities simultaneously.”

Rotary’s emergency funding for responses to polio outbreaks in Somalia and other countries has been critical to ensuring that immunization activities proceed without interruption, thereby minimizing the risk of the disease’s further international spread. 

In addition, the governments of the United Kingdom and Japan recently announced financial commitments of $15.3 million and $1.3 million, respectively, to fund similar emergency vaccination campaigns in the Horn of Africa.

The United Nations has warned that without further intervention, polio could quickly develop into an epidemic across East Africa and put countless lives at risk. The UK’s assistance will allow WHO to immunize 6.1 million people most at risk from the disease in Somalia, northern Kenya, and other countries in the region. This new funding is in addition to a $457 million pledge to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in April.

Japan’s emergency grant will pay for more than 5 million doses of oral polio vaccine for supplementary immunization activities in November and December, expected to reach more than 2.8 million children under 10.

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