Japan donates $1.3 million towards emergency polio initiative in Somalia

The United Nations Children's Fund announced on Monday that an emergency initiative to control a polio outbreak in Somalia has begun following a $1.3 million donation from Japan.

The polio outbreak began in May with a confirmed case in Mogadishu in a two-year-old girl. The outbreak has paralyzed almost 100 children and threatens nearly one million children who are not vaccinated.

"Lack of access to routine immunization in Somalia has created the largest known reservoir of unvaccinated children in a single geographic area in the world," UNICEF Somalia Representative Sikander Khan said. "The total number of Somali children who had never been vaccinated between 2008 and 2012 was estimated to reach a million."

Somalia has not had a case of polio since March 2007. It has the second lowest rate of polio vaccination coverage in the world, which may allow the virus to thrive during the outbreak.

"The poliovirus in such a large reservoir has the potential to result in a catastrophic outbreak, the likes of which are beginning to be seen and as such constitutes an international emergency," Khan said.

More than 2.8 million children 10 years of age and under are expected to gain access to immunizations because of Japan's contribution. The outbreak must be controlled to keep the international goal of eradicating polio by 2015 on track.

"The outbreak in Somalia, if not controlled quickly, could jeopardize global efforts to wipe out polio once and for all," UNICEF said.