Mogadishu — Al-Shabaab's refusal to allow the supply of the polio vaccine in areas under its control is causing panic among residents at a time when aid workers are struggling to contain an outbreak of the crippling virus.
"The polio outbreak plaguing Somalia has spread despite significant efforts to curb the disease," the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement August 15th, adding that insecurity is hampering efforts to contain the virus.
Six years after Somalia was declared free of the virus, at least 105 cases have been confirmed in the country, the "worst outbreak in the world in a non-endemic country", according to OCHA.
Liban Nur, a 65-year-old traditional elder in the town of Bulo Burde in Hiran region, told Sabahi he was very concerned about the spread of polio since al-Shabaab will not allow the vaccine to be brought to the town.
"Polio is widespread in the region, and this year alone I have seen more than four children who have been afflicted with polio and have not received any medical attention or the vaccine to prevent polio," he said.
"Recently people have been treating themselves with traditional medicine such as herbs that grow [in Bulo Burde] that they boil and then give the extracted fluid to the children with polio," he said. "This medicine does not cure anything."
Nur said it is difficult for families to travel to areas under government control where the vaccine is available because many are hampered by economic constraints.
The Somali government led a polio immunisation campaign in May and June aimed at vaccinating more than one million children aged 10 and under. In an attempt to derail the campaign, al-Shabaab launched a propaganda campaign in areas it controls, spreading falsehoods about the vaccine to scare-off parents.
"This vaccine contains toxic things that could make children sterile," the militants said through loudspeakers atop circulating vehicles in Bulo Burde, Buale and Baardheere. "This vaccine contains the virus that causes AIDS. Keep your children safe!"
But Nur said al-Shabaab's scare tactics went largely unheeded