Somalia celebrates polio-free 3 years

A Somali baby is given a polio vaccination in Mogadishu, Somalia,in this file photo. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2017
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Somalia celebrates polio-free 3 years

JEDDAH: An event was held in Mogadishu on Monday to mark three years since the last detected case of polio in Somalia.
It was attended by Somalia’s president, MPs, delegates from the Health Ministry, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
Speaking at the event, the WHO’s director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Mahmoud Fikri, applauded Somalia’s efforts to ward off the crippling and highly infectious virus, but urged continued caution.
“The absence of cases of polio in Somalia today is testament to the leadership, commitment and hard work of the government and people of Somalia, and the effective support and collaboration of many partners,” Fikri said.
“We need to remember, however, that Somalia is at risk of reinfection and we must stay vigilant.”
Somalia stopped endemic polio transmission in 2002, but was since twice affected by imports of the virus.
The outbreak in the Horn of Africa three years ago paralyzed nearly 200 children. Somalia was most affected, accounting for more than 90 percent of cases.
“The polio program in Somalia has fought hard to raise population immunity levels (against polio) across the country, and to improve surveillance system sensitivity to pick up traces of the disease,” said Fikri. “This is commendable, but there are still gaps we must continue to work to address.”
Insecurity and inaccessibility are key challenges for humanitarian partners operating in Somalia, particularly in the southern and central zones.
For the polio program, which aims to vaccinate every child under five years of age, innovative approaches are proving effective.
“Tools have been developed to help us map and track the movement of nomadic pastoral communities so we can reach children on the move,” said Dr. Ghulam Popal, WHO representative to Somalia.
“In addition, locally recruited village polio volunteers are helping us administer polio vaccine in and around places we can’t access. These volunteers also play a key role in helping to find and report cases of acute flaccid paralysis, which is an indicator for polio.”
The event celebrating three years polio-free comes amid the worst outbreak of measles the country has seen in years. Somalia is also still responding to a cholera outbreak that began in January.
“Polio infrastructure has been critical in responding to these other serious outbreaks,” Fikri said.
“We thank our donors and urge the international community to continue to support efforts to keep Somalia polio-free, and other much-needed health interventions in the country.”
Certificates of appreciation were presented to select individuals for outstanding contributions to Somalia’s anti-polio effort. Only nine cases of polio have been reported worldwide so far in 2017.


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 19 June 2019
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”