Flesh-eating parasites, polio outbreak emerging across Syria

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Polio and the flesh-eating parasite, leishmaniasis, are among diseases that are suspected to be flaring up in Syria, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said this week.

Some 22 people in the war-torn country’s northeastern province of Deir Ezzor are showing symptoms that are “very likely” to be polio, Oliver Rosenbawer, from the WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative told The Telegraph on Sunday.


“We still need final confirmation from a laboratory, but all the indicators show that this is polio,” said Mr. Rosenbawer.

If confirmed, the polio outbreak would be Syria’s first in 14 years.

Infographic: Flesh-eating parasites in Syria

Infographic: Flesh-eating parasites in Syria
Infographic: Flesh-eating parasites in Syria

“Doctors in Syria are also seeing a flare-up of typhoid, hepatitis, and the flesh-eating parasite, leishmaniasis, blamed partly on the inability to administer a proper vaccination program and partly on poor living conditions and a much-reduced access to health care,” the newspaper reported.

Polio, a highly infectious disease, invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours.

“The Ministry of Health of the Syrian Arab Republic confirms that it is treating this event as a cluster ... and an urgent response is currently being planned across the country,” the Geneva-based WHO said in statement on Saturday.

“Syria is considered at high-risk for polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases due to the current situation.”

According to latest data from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there have been 296 cases of the disease worldwide so far this year.

There is no cure for polio, but it can be prevented with immunization. Polio vaccine, given in multiple doses in a child’s early years, almost always protects a child for life.

“We are worried about the suspected outbreak [in Syria],” Rosenbawer said.

“As long as there is polio in one place, countries around the world are at risk. The tragedy is that there is no cure; once you have polio, it is for life. So the only way is to tackle it is through vaccination,” he added.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 2-1/2-year-old conflict, which began with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad before degenerating into civil war. Nearly 2.2 million refugees have fled the country.

In recent months the WHO has set up an “Early Warning and Response System” to identify possible outbreaks of dangerous diseases within Syria, said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman, according to The Telegraph.

“We have 291 public health providers in government and opposition-held areas reporting suspected diseased that we then investigate. This network has detected hepatitis A, leishmaniasis, typhoid and measles.”

Leishmaniasis is reportedly thriving in the conflict-ridden Aleppo, where streets are filled with putrid and uncollected rubbish.

“Doctors recorded tens of thousands of cases of the tropical disease, transmitted by sand flies, that causes skin ulcers resembling leprosy,” reported The Telegraph.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos called on Saturday for a cessation of hostilities in a Damascus suburb besieged for months by the Syrian army, so that food and vital medical aid can be delivered.

“How many more children, women and men will needlessly lose their lives?" she asked, referring to a siege on Moadamiyet al-Sham, Nubil, Zahra, old Aleppo town, old Homs town and Hassake.

"The humanitarian community has stressed time and time again that people must not be denied life-saving help and that the fighting has to stop,” Amos added.

(With Reuters)

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