Polio vaccination campaigns commenced in Syria, Iraq and Egypt this week, aiming to reach more than 20 million children over five days.
For Iraq, this will be the first nationwide vaccination campaign since a case of polio was confirmed by the Ministry of Health on 30 March in a six-month-old boy from Rusafa, northern Baghdad.
“The recent detection of a polio case in Iraq after a 14-year absence is a reminder of the risk currently facing children throughout the region,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“It is now even more imperative to boost routine immunisations to reach every child multiple times and do whatever we can to vaccinate children we could not reach in previous rounds. That’s the only way we will prevent this outbreak from spreading further.”
The current vaccination rounds are part of a comprehensive response to the announcement, in October 2013, that wild poliovirus of Pakistani origin had found its way to Syria.
In recognition of the risk of further international spread, the governments of seven countries across the Middle East, with the assistance of local non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and UN agencies, are endeavouring to reach 22 million children multiple times with polio vaccine.
Since October 2013, 25 polio vaccination campaigns were completed across the region, including five rounds in Syria and six in Iraq.
The numbers of children being vaccinated in each round is rising; however, the outbreak response is yet to reach especially vulnerable groups such as children who are on the move fleeing violence from Syria or those living in the midst of active conflict.
“Midway into the implementation of this outbreak response plan, we’re reaching the vast majority of children across the Middle East,” said Chris Maher, WHO Manager for Polio Eradication and Emergency Support.
“In the second phase of the outbreak response we must work with local partners to reach the hardest-to-reach – those pockets of children who continue to miss out, especially in Syria’s besieged and conflict areas and in remote areas of Iraq.
We won’t stop until we reach them.”
Health teams in Lebanon and Turkey will also join the campaign on 10 and 18 April. Since the outbreak was announced UNICEF has delivered 14 million doses of polio vaccines to Syria.