A UN-backed immunisation drive has banished polio from Somalia, global health campaigners said Tuesday, three years after the crippling childhood disease returned to the war-torn African country.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative -- a partnership between the World Health Organisation, the Rotary Club, the UN Children's Fund and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- described the victory as "a historic result".
Four years ago, the Initiative's international vaccination teams had hoped to eradicate polio -- a virus which paralyses and withers infants' limbs and leaves them handicapped for life -- by the end of 2005.
Unfortunately, however, radical Nigerian Islamists spread false rumours that the polio vaccine had been contaminated in order to sterilise African girls.
The campaign faltered and before the situation in Nigeria had been brought under control travellers from the region had spread the polio virus back into countries that were once free of the disease, including Somalia.
According to a statement from the Initiative, 10,000 health volunteers went door-to-door in Somalia despite the ongoing guerilla violence and managed to inoculate 1.8 million children against the disease.
Thanks to their efforts, no polio cases have been recorded in Somalia since March 2007. Polio has now been wiped out in the vast majority of countries, but remains endemic in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.