UN confirms polio outbreak in Syria

The New York Times reports: United Nations officials confirmed an outbreak of polio among children in Syria on Tuesday, lending urgency to plans for vaccination campaigns there and in nearby countries to try to halt the spread of the disease.

Tests confirmed polio in 10 out of 22 children in Deir al-Zour Province in northeastern Syria who became ill this month, Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said. Results of tests on the other 12 children are expected soon, he added.

“With population movements, it can travel to other areas, so the risk is high of spread across the region,” Mr. Rosenbauer said.

United Nations officials said last week they were launching a campaign to immunize 2.4 million children in Syria against polio and other diseases. With thousands of refugees fleeing daily from Syria’s civil war to neighboring countries, they are also intensifying immunization efforts in six countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, which have taken in more than two million Syrian refugees, as well as Egypt and Israel.

Most of the affected children in Syria are under two years old, Mr. Rosenbauer said, underscoring the impact of 31 months of conflict on Syria’s health infrastructure. The United Nations says half a million Syrian children have not been inoculated against polio in a country where, before the conflict, 95 percent of the country’s population was immunized.

Despite the difficulty of delivering vaccines in a country convulsed by war, the United Nations Children’s Fund said it had vaccinated about a million Syrian children this year, including 800,000 who were vaccinated against polio.

After confirming the presence of the disease, attention is turning to identifying the source, Mr. Rosenbauer said. Public health officials have speculated that a possible source may have been jihadists traveling to Syria from Pakistan which, with Afghanistan and Nigeria, are the only countries where the disease is still endemic. [Continue reading…]

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