Red Cross and Red Crescent responds to polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa with a plan to support immunization of millions of children

Publié: 24 octobre 2013

Nairobi, Kenya, 24 October 2013: As polio continues to spread throughout the Horn of Africa, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has announced plans to support polio immunization of millions of children in the region.  

In May, a case of wild poliovirus was confirmed in the Benadir region of Somalia. A week later another case was reported in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Despite an immediate multi-country response, the polio virus has continued to spread rapidly. Six new cases were reported in the past week (four in Somalia and two in Ethiopia), bringing the total number of cases in the Horn of Africa to 197 (174 in Somalia; 14 in Kenya; six in Ethiopia and three in South Sudan). Neighbouring countries of Djibouti, Eritrea and Uganda remain at significant risk. 

“The current polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa is likely to be prolonged and continue to spread. With our network of community volunteers in each country, the Red Cross and Red Crescent is well placed to support immunization activities,” said Dr John Haskew, IFRC Regional Polio Advisor. “In 2009, during polio outbreaks across Africa, 30,000 Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers were mobilized to support campaigns, helping to reach over 25 million children with polio vaccinations. When the first cases of polio were reported in Kenya and Somalia earlier this year, Kenya Red Cross Society and Somali Red Crescent Society volunteers supported social mobilization and vaccination of children in particularly high risk and inaccessible border areas.” 

The Red Cross Red Crescent is working with government Ministries of Health and partners such as Centers for Disease Control (CDC), WHO and UNICEF to support immunization of more than 35 million children across seven countries in the Horn of Africa. IFRC organized a regional polio planning meeting in Nairobi last week involving eight National Societies and Ministries of Health, as well as partners including CDC, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF and WHO. Planned Red Cross Red Crescent support to national rounds of polio immunization activities include micro planning and mapping of villages and communities in remote and inaccessible areas, education and mobilization of communities for immunization, and campaign surveillance using mobile phone technology.

Thousands of Red Cross Red Crescent community-based volunteers are well placed to help promote vaccination in the region. Trained volunteers, who live in the same community as the local population and speak the same language, can help reach the most inaccessible, poor and marginalized communities.

Polio is a highly infectious and potentially fatal disease caused by a virus that is spread by faecal-oral transmission from person to person. Most people infected with the polio virus have no signs of illness and are never aware they have been infected. Approximately one in 200 infections leads to irreversible acute flaccid paralysis, caused when the virus invades the central nervous system.

“There is no cure for polio, but there are safe and effective vaccines,” said Dr Haskew. “The strategy to eradicate polio is based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops. We must work quickly and effectively to support vaccination efforts and control this Horn of Africa outbreak.”

Through its Global Measles and Polio Initiative, IFRC works strategically to help Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies fulfil their role as key partners in the international drive against polio.  

For further information, please contact:

In Nairobi, Kenya:
Aude Galli, Humanitarian Diplomacy Advisor, IFRC
Mobile: + 254 731 984 105


 In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
Katherine Mueller, Communications Manager, IFRC Africa
Mobile: +251 930 03 3413