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Massive vaccination effort to target 20 million Syrian children against polio

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In a massive medical effort, more than 20 million children will be vaccinated in Syria and neighboring countries against polio. The debilitating disease has cropped up in the northeastern part of Syria, and health officials are taking steps to make sure the condition doesn't make further inroads in an area already crippled by a two-year long civil war.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - United Nations agencies say they will attempt to stop the spread of the crippling, infectious disease after its re-emergence in the area after 14 years.

The joint effort aims to repeatedly vaccinate about 20 million children in seven countries and territories. The campaign will be the largest-ever consolidated immunization response in the Middle East. The ongoing war in Syria and the movement of refugees in the region have hampered immunization in recent years.

"The polio outbreak in Syria is not just a tragedy for children, it is an urgent alarm - and a crucial opportunity to reach all under-immunized children wherever they are," UNICEF's Chief of Polio Peter Crowley said in a statement.

The recent polio outbreak in Syria, confirmed by the World health Organization last week, should "serve as a stark reminder to countries and communities that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere."

The recent polio outbreak is the first such outbreak in Syria since 1999. To date it has paralyzed 10 children and poses a risk of paralysis to hundreds of thousands of children across the region, the WHO said.

"It is going to need quite an intense period of activity to raise the immunity in a region that has really been ravaged both by conflict in some parts, but also by large population movements," WHO spokeswoman Sona Bari says. She says it will take six months of repeated campaigns to reach 22 million children.

Emergency immunization campaigns in and around Syria to prevent transmission of polio and other preventable diseases have vaccinated more than 650,000 children in Syria, including 116,000 in the northeast Deir al-Zor province where the polio outbreak was confirmed.

The organization was "optimistic" about containing the outbreak, Bari said. "That said, we're certainly going to see more cases."

Syria's immunization rates have plummeted from more than 90 percent before the conflict to currently around 68 percent.

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