Polio fears in Ethiopian refugee camps

Briefing Notes, 24 January 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is very concerned at reports this week of two suspected poliomyelitis cases among Somali refugees at Dollo Ado's Bur Amino camp in Ethiopia, and three suspected cases from the surrounding host community. Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, which mainly affects young children.

In the five refugee camps in Dollo Ado we are working closely with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, local government partners, WHO, UNICEF, MSF and other health partners to coordinate the response. The immediate priority is to confirm the outbreak, and samples have been collected and sent to Addis Ababa for laboratory confirmation. Once the strain of virus is identified, the appropriate vaccine will be dispatched to Dollo Ado for a mass vaccination campaign in the camps and surrounding communities.

In addition a nationwide anti-polio campaign in all zones of the country is scheduled to start on January 27th and will be expanded to include all refugee camps.

UNHCR and health agencies have also strengthened surveillance. At community level, mobilization and sensitization efforts have been stepped up to increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of polio and ways to prevent transmission. As the polio virus is transmitted through contaminated food and water, our partners providing water and sanitation are being engaged to ensure delivery of adequate services.

Some 143,000 Somalis are currently sheltered in five Ethiopian camps in Dollo Ado. More than 100,000 arrived in 2011 alone. After Dadaab in northeastern Kenya, Dollo Ado is now the second largest refugee settlement in the Horn of Africa. Almost a million Somalis live as refugees in the region while another 1.36 million are internally displaced.

For further information on these topics, please contact:

  • In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher, mobile +251 911 208 901
  • In Nairobi (UNHCR regional hub): Vivian Tan, mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic, mobile +41 79 200 7617
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