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Cholera vaccination campaign focussing on Somalia

A second stage of a major vaccination campaign to halt the spread of cholera got underway in March and April in three drought-ravaged regions of Somalia.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, delivered 953,000 doses of Oral Cholera Vaccine to the country to protect more than 450,000 people from the disease.

The campaign took place in three of the worst-hit regions, Banadir, Kismayo and Beledweyne, with the vaccine being given in two doses to everyone over the age of one. The first round ran from 15-19 March and the second from 18-22 April.

The vaccines were procured, transported and stored at the appropriate temperature by UNICEF. They are being administered by the Government of Somalia with the support of World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF; while UNICEF and others continue to improve water and sanitation infrastructure and promote behaviour change. As well as providing the vaccines, Gavi has provided US$550,000 to support the campaign. 

Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, said the people of Somalia are going through unimaginable suffering.

“After years of conflict, a severe drought has brought the country to the brink of famine and now a suspected cholera outbreak threatens to become a nationwide epidemic,” he said.

“These lifesaving vaccines will play a vital role in slowing the spread of the disease, buying valuable time to put the right water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure in place to stop the root causes of this outbreak.”

Dr Ghulam Popal, WHO Representative in Somalia, said cholera was a major health issue in Somalia.

“The current drought has worsened the situation for many. Therefore we’re very glad to have the support of Gavi to implement the first OCV campaign in Somalia,” Dr Popal said.

“We are very hopeful that the vaccination campaign will control outbreaks, and eventually save lives.”

The current severe drought in Somalia has forced communities to use contaminated water, helping cholera to spread. A total of 25,000 cases of Acute Watery Diarrhoea/cholera have been reported since the beginning of 2017, causing at least 524 deaths. Surveillance reports indicate that the epidemic is now spreading to areas inaccessible to aid workers.

UNICEF Somalia Representative, Steven Lauwerier said the vaccination campaign was an emergency measure.

“We need to continue to tackle the main cause of such outbreaks,” he said.

“UNICEF, donors, government and other stakeholders are making some progress in improving access to safe water and promoting good sanitation and hygiene practices and this needs to be scaled up urgently.”

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership committed to saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing equitable use of vaccines in lower-income countries.

The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners.

Gavi uses innovative finance mechanisms, including co-financing by recipient countries, to secure sustainable funding and adequate supply of quality vaccines. Since 2000, Gavi has contributed to the immunisation of nearly 580 million children and the prevention of approximately 8 million future deaths. 

Chris Johnson