United Nations completes first round of polio vaccination in eastern Syria

August 18, 2017 10:30 pm

A Syrian boy is given the polio vaccine by a UNICEF nurse at the refugee agency’s registration center in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley on December 18, 2013. (Photos by AP)

The has completed the first round of a vaccination campaign following a polio outbreak in ’s Dayr al-Zawr and Raqqah provinces.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) teamed up with the World Health Organization (WHO) and local partners to vaccinate 355,000 children under five years of age in the two provinces, said UNICEF representative in Syria Fran Equiza.
Before the Syrian crisis started in 2011, the country was considered polio-free, but according to UNICEF, the current polio immunization rate in the country has plummeted from over 80 percent to just over 40 percent.
The continued violence has heavily damaged Syria’s health infrastructure and severely disrupted routine immunization services, particularly in the embattled Dayr al-Zawr and Raqqah provinces.
“As of August 18, 33 children under the age of five have been paralyzed,” said Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO Representative in Syria.
“Our priority now is to achieve the highest possible polio immunization coverage to stop the circulation of virus,” she added.
UNICEF and WHO called on all parties to the conflict to allow vaccinators full access to children in need.

Syrian children wait for vaccinations against polio at one of the Syrian refugee camps in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon on November 7, 2013.

In June, WHO announced that at least 17 children in eastern Syria had been paralyzed from a confirmed outbreak of polio.
The polio virus is so contagious that one confirmed case of paralysis is considered an outbreak, as doctors assume it means over 200 other people may have been exposed to the virus.
This is the second outbreak of the crippling disease to hit Syria since the ongoing conflict hit the country.
Unlike Syria’s first polio outbreak in 2013, which paralyzed 36 children before it was brought under control, the new outbreak has been derived from the polio vaccine itself.
The vaccine which contains a weakened form of the polio virus can be secreted in the bodily waste of vaccinated children, and it can gradually mutate into an infectious strain that may afflict the unvaccinated children.
The risk of outbreak is especially high in areas where the mutated virus can spread from contaminated water or dysfunctional sewage systems.
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