Vaccines are saving millions of lives of children in Somalia: urgent need to scale up routine immunization programme

From the moment we’re born, we’re all at risk of contracting diseases. So the question is, are we aware enough? Are we responsible enough? Are we immune enough? Not long ago infections like influenza, tetanus, chickenpox and measles were prolonged, painful illnesses, which often resulted in death. Immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective public health interventions.

The Expanded Programmme on Immunization (EPI) started in Somalia in 1978 with the support of WHO and UNICEF. Due to the prolonged conflict and instability Somalia’s health system, including immunization services, is very weak, fragmented and severely under-funded. Control of vaccine-preventable diseases remains a huge challenge in Somalia, due to the low routine immunization coverage and the continued inability to reach children in security-compromised areas, hard-to-reach areas, nomadic children and competing health priorities for parents other than immunization of children. Low routine immunization coverage and a history of serious outbreaks that have hit Somalia in the past are a strong reminder of the risks posed by large cohort of un-immunized children. Vaccine-preventable diseases are prevalent in Somalia and child mortality is 137 per 1000 live births.

Somalia has been providing the traditional 6 antigens in routine immunization and with the support of GAVI – the Vaccine Alliance and immunization partners like UNICEF and WHO. The country has introduced pentavalent vaccine in 2013 and inactivated polio virus vaccine in 2015 and plans to introduce measles-containing-vaccine second-dose (MCV2) in 2020. With the continuous support of GAVI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International and other important donors immunization coverage has improved in recent years; however, Somalia has still not attained the desired levels of coverage.

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