Millions of Somali children will be vaccinated against measles in a joint campaign by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unicef and local health authorities. The aim is to target more than 4.7-million children aged from six months to 10 years.
Over 2,800 cases of suspected measles have been reported since the start of the year, with the most affected regions including Bay, Banadir and Mudug. In 2017 there were more than 23,000 suspected cases of measles – six times as many as in 2016 – with the vast majority (83%) affecting children under 10.
In early 2017, WHO, Unicefand partners, together with national health authorities, vaccinated nearly 600,000 children aged six months to five years for measles in hard-to-reach and hotspot areas across Somalia.
“The campaign will intensify efforts to improve immunity against measles and reach unvaccinated children. As we saw last year when partners responded to a major cholera outbreak, with the right interventions, WHO and health authorities are confident that similar success may be seen in controlling this measles outbreak,” said Dr Ghulam Popal, WHO Rrepresentative in Somalia.
More than two years of severe drought has led to widespread child malnutrition, mass displacement, and a lack of access to clean water and sanitation, creating ideal conditions for infectious disease outbreaks.
“The situation is especially critical for millions of under-vaccinated, weak and vulnerable children who are susceptible to contracting infectious diseases. More than 1.2-million children are projected to be at risk of acute malnutrition in the next 12 months. These children are nine times more likely to die of killer diseases such as measles and acute watery diarrhoea /cholera than healthy children,” said Steven Lauwerier, Unicef Somalia representative.
Ahead of this latest campaign, in late 2017, WHO conducted a series of trainings for Somali health workers on early outbreak detection and response for measles. The trainings aim to enhance measles case-based surveillance and laboratory confirmation, improve measles case management during outbreaks, and achieve high routine measles vaccination coverage.
Unicef has procured and distributed over 4.7 million doses of measles vaccine and organised 1,700 social mobilisers to encourage families to vaccinate children and adults who are not or think they might not be fully immunised. This will be accompanied by Vitamin A supplementation which will help to boost immunity.
The response is supported through funding from Alwaleed Philanthropies (Saudi Arabia), the United Nations Foundation, WHO, and the Somalia Humanitarian Fund.