Syrian activists: WHO polio vaccines ‘rarely reach liberated areas’

Polio is preventable if children receive vaccines; however, the contagious disease is incurable

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Opposition-controlled areas “rarely” receive polio vaccines by the World Health Organization (WHO), Syrian activists said in their campaign, urging the WHO to speed up efforts to curb the outbreak of the contagious disease.

Activists launched an online petition on Nov. 24, warning that “for the first time in 14 years, there is an outbreak of polio among children in Syria with 60 reported cases of acute flaccid paralysis.

“The WHO has been discussing the matter with Syrian medical representatives from the liberated territories for over a month now. It is time for action,” they said.

In contrast with “the [Syrian] regime-controlled areas,” polio vaccines by the WHO “have only rarely reached the liberated areas and then only in small quantities and over a long period of time without monitoring.”

In November, the incurable virus was confirmed in 13 children who became paralyzed. The WHO also warned that polio is expected to spread after a drop in vaccination rates due to the war.

While the activists said “the Syrian regime is responsible for creating this situation,” which “it has not dealt [with] … satisfactorily,” they added that both the Syrian government as well as the WHO should be “held accountable for this dangerous negligence.”

“We cannot rely on the guilty party [Syrian government] to resolve this serious situation but we demand that the WHO act immediately!” they emphasized.

The petition, which has 430 signatures so far, aims to gather 5,000 names to back up the campaign to help Syrian children in “liberated areas.”

Polio is preventable if children receive vaccines; however, the contagious disease is incurable.

Syria’s immunization rates have plummeted from more than 90 percent before the war to around 68 percent.

However, the activists said “despite the extremely difficult and dangerous conditions on the ground, there is an advanced network of medical workers and local council members prepared to embark on a door-to-door vaccination campaign targeting all children under five years of age in the liberated areas of Syria.”

The campaigners warned that the contagious disease can easily spread in “crowded, impoverished and unsanitary environments without a functioning healthcare system.”

They expressed concern that “refugee camps housing a fraction of the over two million externally displaced Syrians and liberated areas without regular access to running water and garbage disposal are perfect breeding grounds for the virus.”

Meanwhile, the opposition Aleppo Media Center said Monday that a new polio case had been reported in Aleppo after two cases were reported in the northwestern province’s suburbs.

Late November, the WHO said more polio cases had been confirmed in two new areas of Syria, which included infected areas near the capital Damascus and Aleppo.

“In addition to 15 polio cases in Deir al-Zor province, Syria, two additional cases have been confirmed, one each in rural Damascus and Aleppo,” the organization said on its Twitter account.

Polio is endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria despite a 25-year-old campaign to eradicate the disease, which can paralyze a child within hours.

More than 20 million children are to be vaccinated in Syria and neighboring countries over the next six months, United Nations agencies said last month.

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