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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March 2008, 13:14 GMT

War-torn Somalia eradicates polio

A Somali child receiving a polio vaccination (Picture: WHO)
The UN paid tribute to Somalia's thousands of health work volunteers

Polio has been eliminated from Somalia as no case of the disease has been reported for exactly one year, the UN World Health Organisation says.

The WHO described it as a "landmark victory" and a testimony to the efforts of more than 10,000 volunteer workers.

The country has been riven by war and violence since 1991 and has no central government or detailed medical data.

But a WHO spokesman said the UN's network of monitors made it confident in its assessment.


"This truly historic achievement shows that polio can be eradicated everywhere, even in the most challenging and difficult settings," the WHO's Hussein Gezairy said.

Somalia was the last country with smallpox. I wanted to help ensure that we would not be the last place with polio too
Smallpox victim Ali Mao Moallim

Somalia's last case of indigenous polio was in 2002, but it was re-infected three years later with the virus originating from Nigeria.

The UN says its health workers repeatedly vaccinated more than 1.8m children under the age of five by visiting every household in every settlement multiple times.

The last case was reported on 25 March 2007 in central Somalia.

"This repeated success in Somalia indicates the disease can be stopped even in areas with no functioning central government," the WHO statement said.

One of the 10,000 volunteers was Ali Mao Moallim who was the last person on earth to contract smallpox more than 30 years ago.

"Somalia was the last country with smallpox. I wanted to help ensure that we would not be the last place with polio too," he said.

The disease, which causes paralysis, has been eliminated in developed nations but persists in parts of India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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