The U.N. Friday said it fears a surge in polio cases among children who have escaped from the extremist bastion of Fallujah, and has launched a "massive" vaccination campaign.
Residents of Fallujah, which Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes are pushing to recapture from ISIS' control, are suffering from extremely high rates of skin disease, hyper tension and diarrhea, said Ala Alwan of the World Health Organization.
Speaking to journalists by phone after touring camps for displaced people around Fallujah, Alwan said mothers were nervous because their children had not been vaccinated since the ISIS takeover in 2014. "A specific concern for us is polio," said Alwan, the WHO's chief for the eastern Mediterranean region.
"We have started a massive vaccination program," he said, urging donor nations to boost their support for Iraqi civilians fleeing the fighting. He said it was too early to estimate the number of children to be targeted in the vaccination drive. Fallujah, which lies just 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad, is one of ISIS' most emblematic strongholds.
Iraqi forces said they retook the main government compound in the city earlier Friday. Alwan estimated that 40,000 people had fled the city during the offensive and that another 30,000 to 40,000 "are still inside." Camps for the displaced are filling up and more capacity is urgently needed, he told reporters. "We have a huge demand," Alwan said. "It's very, very sad situation."