Health-care workers in Somalia today began a three-day, United Nations-backed campaign to vaccinate more than 1.8 million young children against polio, four years after the Horn of Africa country was declared to be polio-free.
The new campaign, which is being carried out by local health authorities in concert with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), as well as other international partners, aims to reach every eligible child in the country, despite the insecurity plaguing many regions and the inaccessibility of some areas.
Marthe Everard, WHO's representative for Somalia, noted that the last recorded case of polio in Somalia was on 27 March 2007 after years of intense international efforts to combat the disease in the strife-torn country.
"This shows that polio can be eradicated everywhere, even in the most challenging and difficult settings," she said.
But Dr. Everard warned that Somalia was still at risk of "importing" the virus from other countries where the polio virus still circulates.
"We must remain ever-vigilant to do all efforts to maintain high immunity of children under the age of five."
Two rounds of polio vaccinations are scheduled to take place across Somalia this year, with officials hoping to reach an estimated 800,000 children in the country's south-central region who missed out on receiving the two drops last year.
Rozanne Chorlton, UNICEF's representative for Somalia, also stressed that it was vital to reach every child, despite the four-year gap since the last recorded case.
"If we are to ensure that no new cases of polio emerge in Somalia, vaccination teams must be able to access every community, every household and every child aged under five," she said.
Polio, a contagious viral disease which can cause paralysis in its victims, has been eradicated in all but four countries - Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Nigeria.