New York, US – The largest-ever consolidated immunisation response in the Middle East is under way to stop a polio outbreak, aiming to vaccinate over 20 million children in seven countries and territories repeatedly, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The Emergency immunisation campaigns in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Turkey, to prevent the transmission of polio and other preventable diseases, have vaccinated more than 650,000 children in Syria, including 116,000 in the highly-contested north-east Deir-ez-Zor province where the polio outbreak was confirmed a week ago, they said in a joint statement obtained by PANA here Friday..
In a region that had not seen polio for nearly a decade, in the last 12 months poliovirus has been detected in sewage samples from Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The outbreak of paralytic polio among children in Syria has catalysed the current mass response. The first polio outbreak in the country since 1999, it has so far left 10 children paralyzed, and poses a risk of paralysis to hundreds of thousands of children across the region.
Preliminary evidence indicates that the poliovirus is of Pakistani origin and is similar to the strain detected in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
UNICEF has procured 1.35 billion doses of oral polio vaccine (OPV) to date in 2013 and by the end of the year will have procured up to 1.7 billion doses to meet increased demand.
The unprecedented response to polio virus circulation in the region includes plans for a six-month sustained effort of intense immunisation activity.
The campaign targets 1.6 million children in Syria; over 18,800 children in Jordan and thousands in Iraq, where a vaccination campaign has started in the west of the country,
Lebanon’s nationwide campaign begins later this week and Turkey and Egypt by mid-November.
Syria’s immunisation rates have plummeted from more than 90% before the conflict to currently 68%.
According to the WHO, the polio virus usually infects children in unsanitary conditions through faecal-oral transmission associated with close person to person contact and consumption of food and drink contaminated with faeces.
It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyse, spreading widely and unnoticed before it starts crippling children.
For every one case of polio, 200 children can be infected. There is no cure for polio – it can only be prevented through immunisation.
Since 1988, vaccination has reduced polio by more than 99% worldwide, and the disease is slated for complete eradication.