August 5, 2013 -- GUEST COLUMN, by Helen Rees
Just as we were seeing record-low cases of polio worldwide and coming closer than ever to eradication, 105 new cases of wild polio have been identified in Kenya and Somalia, raising new concerns about low coverage and inaccessible populations in that area. While the outbreaks are undoubtedly a setback, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) had anticipated that sporadic cases would occur in vulnerable settings during the final push for polio eradication, and it's noteworthy that the situation has been met with one of the quickest and most effective emergency responses to date.
Although polio has been cornered in a handful of countries, the last vestiges of the disease will be the most difficult to stop. For example, political instability and insecurity in some areas --which in Nigeria and Pakistan culminated in the targeted murder of health care workers engaged in delivering services earlier this year -- hinder access to at-risk children and can fuel the risk of outbreaks. Fortunately, containing outbreaks, such as those in the Horn of Africa, is a crucial part of the GPEI's Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-2018.
Over the past 10 years, the GPEI has improved its outbreak response by systematically learning lessons from the more than 100 polio outbreaks that have occurred worldwide.
Since May of this year, 10 polio cases have been confirmed in Kenya and 95 in Somalia. A dozen vaccination campaigns have been conducted from May through July 24 across Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen that aimed to reach more than 17 million individuals, including adults in some areas. Additional campaigns will be executed in August.
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