UN agencies begin Syrian immunization campaign after reports of polio outbreak

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A girl receives a dose of oral polio vaccine at a health centre in Syria during a UNICEF-supported polio and measles immunisation campaign. (© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-1628/BASSEL HALABI)

A large scale vaccination campaign is underway in Syria, led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, following reports of an outbreak of polio in the country, detected earlier this month in Deir Al Zour province.

Tarik Jasarevic, Spokesperson for the World Health Organization, says it's not yet been confirmed that the outbreak is indeed polio, but it needs to be treated as such: "There is a cluster of acute flaccid paralysis cases. There are 22 cases being investigated, still suspect cases, and we are waiting for the results from laboratory testing that is being done now."

Marixie Mercado, Spokesperson for UNICEF, says that vaccinating against a range of childhood diseases is a matter of urgency: "Inside Syria, a campaign led by the Ministry of Health began yesterday targeting 2.4 million children with vaccines against polio, measles, mumps and rubella."

Since the conflict began, routine immunization programmes have been disrupted or broken down. UNICEF says that children are now at far higher risk of contracting diseases such as polio and measles.

"Around 500,000 children in Syria have not been vaccinated against polio in the past two years due to insecurity and access constraints. Prior to the conflict, immunization coverage in Syria was about 95%."

The last reported case of polio in Syria was in 1999.

Nicki Chadwick, UN Radio, Geneva

Duration: 2’17″

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