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Polio risk still hangs heavy over Syria’s children

Children in Syria’s violence-plagued areas are still at risk of infection

Hind Mustafa

Published: Updated:

Millions of children in Syria have been vaccinated against polio seven months after its outbreak. However, children in Syria’s violence-plagued areas are still at risk of infection, according to UNICEF.

The U.N. body, the World Health Organization, and independent humanitarian aid bodies are coordinating mass vaccination campaigns across the troubled country, which is now well into the third year of a violent civil war.

“UNICEF and its partners vaccinated around three million children during six rounds of polio vaccination campaigns across Syria,” Juliette Touma, a regional UNICEF spokesperson, told Al Arabiya News on Thursday.

The latest polio vaccination campaign by the UNICEF was completed last week, according to Touma.

UNICEF is working in accordance with the WHO, the Ministry of Health in Syria and other partners including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The Polio Control Task Force - a humanitarian aid body - announced Thursday that more than one million children have been vaccinated in its latest campaign in areas including Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Deir el-Zour, Lattakia, Raqqa and Hasaka.

The Force was launched by the Turkey-based Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU), a humanitarian aid unit formed by the Syrian National Coalition opposition group.

Children in high risk areas

Hundreds of thousands of children in need of the vaccination were not reached due to logistical difficulties in the troubled country, Touma said.

“There are around 323,000 children under the age of five, considered at the highest risk of polio, that were not reached as frequently as needed because they lived in areas hard to reach due to the violence,” Touma said.

Children in high risk areas, where polio cases have been confirmed, should be vaccinated six times over the span of six months to avoid the infection.

“We might have accessed them once or twice, but we didn’t access them all six times, so our work is not yet complete,” she added.

UNICEF’s tours of Syria are part of the biggest vaccination campaign “in the history of the Middle East,” Touma said.

During the past few months, the regional campaigns “reached 25 million people in Syria and its neighboring countries,” such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Palestine and Turkey, where children face polio risk, according to the spokesperson.

The disease was last reported in Syria in 1999, according to Reuters.

Polio is highly infectious and potentially fatal. If it affects the brain and the spinal cord, it could cause paralysis.

There is no known cure for Polio and so the vaccinations are used as a preventative medication.