UNICEF and WHO back final push against polio in the Middle East

UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO)have briefed media from across the region on the ongoing efforts to stop polio from regaining a foothold in the region, outlining the achievements made and the ongoing obstacles teams face instopping transmission of the virus,triggered by the conflict in Syria and Iraq. 

Significant progress has been made in the effort to eliminate polio in the Middle East, after 36 cases were confirmed in Syria during 2013 and 2014, and two further cases were confirmed in Iraq in 2014. 

The year-long response has been characterised by coordinated and sustained partnerships between governments of infected and at risk countries, UN organizations, NGOs and INGOs, with a focused aim of protecting children from this crippling disease. 

Extensive gains have been made against the disease with multiple, synchronized vaccination rounds across the region since the outbreak was confirmed in 2013 but there is more work to be done to reach 25 million children under the age of five with repeated doses of the polio vaccine. 

Focus now turns to the crucial multi-country vaccination rounds in November that is targeting children under the age of five, across eight countries: Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, West Bank and Gaza and Iran. 

"Tremendous progress has been achieved since polio made its way back into Syria last year. 

Through the huge effort of our partners to reach children in hard- to-access areas, in challenging conditions, there have been no new cases of polio reported in Syria or Iraq since April," said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

"This effort must be sustained and we must remain vigilant so that all children can grow and thrivewithout the fear of polio." Ongoing activities include: 

• In Syria: 2.9 million children targeted for immunization in November
• In Iraq: 5.8 million children vaccinated in October 
• In Lebanon: 550,000 children to be immunized in November 
• In Jordan: 1.1 million targeted to be vaccinated in November 
• In Egypt: 15 million children targeted for immunization in November 
• In Turkey: 300,000 children were targeted to be vaccinated in October 

Millions of children have been reached with the lifesaving vaccine since the outbreak began but there is a special effort to reach children who have been displaced by the ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq, and who may have missed out on previous vaccination campaigns because of heavy fighting.

An estimated 200,000 children are at risk of being missed by polio campaigns in Syria because they live in areas affected by to the ongoing conflict. 

"While polio has been reduced by over 99 per cent since the global eradication effort started, the risk of further international spread across the region remains high, so we appeal to parents to give their full support to these campaigns, which will run through early 2015," said Chris Maher, Manager of Polio Eradication and Emergency Response, WHO. 

"Closing the Middle East polio outbreak is a critical step toward improving the lives of the world's most vulnerable children." The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) partners set a goal of ending transmission in the Middle East by end of 2014. 

Ongoing efforts to meet that goal will be reviewed in a major meeting to assess overall response in the New Year, which will focus on approaches tostrengthen routine immunization in the region. 

GPEI is spearheaded by national governments, WHO, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank and a range of public and private sector donors. 

Since 1988, GPEI has reduced polio worldwide by over 99percent. 

For more information

Simon Ingram, UNICEF, +962 6 550 2407, singram@unicef.org 
Emma Sykes, WHO, +962 7 9141 8368, sykese@who.int

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