March 24, 2006

200 children in Somalia stricken with polio: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) - Nearly 200 children in Somalia have been
paralyzed with polio since the disease re-emerged in July, and
the virus is spreading in the lawless country, the World Health
Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

A nationwide vaccination campaign is being launched on
Sunday to try to reach 1.4 million Somali children under age
five, the United Nations agency added.

"The polio outbreak in Somalia, which occurred in July 2005
with an importation of polio virus, has affected a total of 199
children to date," the WHO said in a statement.

Polio, caused by a viral infection involving the brain and
spinal cord, can paralyze a child for life within hours. In
about 10 percent of cases there is a full recovery.

Four in five of the cases since July were recorded in the
capital Mogadishu, where the virus now seems to be on the
decline after immunization campaigns, but it has spread to
Lower Juba in the south and Mudug in the northeast, the WHO

In all, the crippling virus is now been reported in eight
of Somalia's 19 regions, WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer said.
"It is a big outbreak."

Somalia was the 19th country to be reinfected with polio in
the past two years since Nigeria's northern state of Kano
suspended immunizations in 2003, which allowed the virus to
spread to neighboring countries.

Vaccinations resumed after a 10-month ban imposed because
religious leaders said they could cause sterility or spread


The WHO launched a worldwide campaign in 1988 to wipe out
polio, but failed to reach its target of halting transmission
worldwide by the end of 2005.