Middle East polio outbreak "on verge" of being stopped

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Polio vaccination campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Egypt. (file photo) Photo: UNICEF/Ayberk Yurtsever

A polio outbreak in the Middle East is "on the verge" of being stopped, according to health experts at a UN meeting in Lebanon.

The outbreak which started in Syria and spread to Iraq in early 2014 paralysed at least 38 children in Syria and Iraq, prompting fears of a major epidemic.

A regional outbreak response helped immunize more than 27 million children across 8 countries.

Stephanie Castro has the story.

Polio experts attending a regional Polio review meeting in Beirut organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF remain "cautiously optimistic".

One year has now passed since the last confirmed case of the virus in Syria and nine months since the last in Iraq, in spite of the ongoing conflict and mass population displacement in the region.

The achievement is the result of enormous efforts and commitments shown by governments, health workers and parents to ensure their children are covered.

Experts warn though that the disease could make a renewed comeback.

With violence "still sweeping" Syria and Iraq, there is a serious risk that some children are not being reached regularly by vaccination teams, they note.

Further immunization campaigns over the months ahead are essential given the gaps in vaccine coverage and potentially new surveillance for new cases, the experts add.

Stephanie Castro, United Nations.

Duration:  52″

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