Somalia receives 1.4 million doses of oral cholera vaccine as cases surge

MOGADISHU, Apr 1: Somalia has received 1.4 million vials of the oral cholera vaccine worth US$2.5 million from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) amid alarm over the increasing number of reported cases in the country, Xinhua reported.

The vaccines will be distributed to five hotspot districts across the country in a stepped-up effort to stem an outbreak of the disease that, since January, has infected 4,388 people and claimed 54 lives, two-thirds of whom were children, the UNICEF said in a statement issued in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on Saturday evening.

“In conjunction with the vaccines and supplies, UNICEF and partners are stepping up improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene services in affected areas and sensitising communities on prevention,” the UN agency said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of reported cases this year is three times higher than the average reported in the same period over the last three years. The upsurge in cholera is largely attributed to El Nino-induced floods at the end of 2023, which killed at least 118 people and displaced 1.2 million others.

The UNICEF said the 700,000 vials are earmarked for Bossaso district in Puntland state, which has experienced the highest case fatality rate, with other affected districts being Daynile, Mahady, Buurhakaba and Balcad.

The UN agency also said that it is delivering 40 cholera kits for the treatment of about 4,000 people, with each kit comprising cholera treatment drugs and equipment.

Somalia has had uninterrupted transmission of cholera since 2016, driven by high population concentrations lacking access to safe water and adequate sanitation, population movements within Somalia and across its borders, and persistently high levels of malnutrition.

With the rainy season set to start soon, there are fears that Somalia might yet see an increase in cases, the UNICEF said. Health authorities and partners have stepped up their preparedness and response ahead of the rains, guided by a six-month action plan costing US$5.9 million.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection that spreads through food and water contaminated with bacteria, often from feces. In 2023, more than 18,300 cumulative cases and 46 deaths were reported, with over half of the cases being children aged below five years.