Syria, neighbors to vaccinate 20 million children against polio

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More than 20 million children are to be vaccinated in Syria and neighboring countries against polio to try to stop the spread of the crippling infectious disease following its re-emergence there after 14 years, United Nations agencies said on Friday.

The mass vaccination against polio, which can spread rapidly among children, is already under way in the Middle East a week after the region declared a polio emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.


Aiming to repeatedly vaccinate about 20 million children in seven countries and territories, it will be the largest-ever consolidated immunization response in the Middle East.

Civil war in Syria and the movement of refugees in the region have hampered immunization in recent years.

The nationwide polio vaccination campaign in neighboring Lebanon started on Friday, targeting more than 750,000 children aged under five.

Lebanon, which hosts more than 700,000 Syrian refugees, announced last month it would vaccinate all children under five against polio after cases of the crippling viral disease were found in neighboring Syria.

“Today was the launching of the polio campaign in Lebanon. Lebanon has been polio-free for almost twelve years and it should stay as it is. Therefore today, together with the ministry of health, we have started the vaccination of more than 750,000 under five children,” UNICEF representative in Lebanon, AnnaMaria Laurini, told Reuters.

There is no cure for polio, a highly infectious disease which invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. It can only be prevented through immunization.

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

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