WHO confirm polio outbreak in Syria
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have reported 22 cases of polio in Syria, mostly in toddlers and babies.
Only two of these cases have been definitively confirmed by laboratories. WHO awaits the confirmation of the remaining 20, which should be in next week. If they are confirmed, it will be the first outbreak of the disease there in 14 years.
The disease is thought to have centred and spread from the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, which has been badly caught in the conflict between the Syrian Government and those who oppose it.
The area has suffered especially due to its political fragmentation; the city is under the jurisdiction of President Bashar al-Assad, while those who oppose him control the countryside.
WHO spokesperson, Oliver Rosenbauer, said: “There is a cluster of 22 acute flaccid paralysis cases that is being investigated in that area. Everybody is treating this as an outbreak and is in outbreak response mode.”
Syria’s war began in 2011, and prior to this approximately 95% of children under 5 were vaccinated against polio. Now UNICEF estimates 500,000 are not immunised, and 100,000 are at risk of contracting the disease in Deir ez-Zor alone.
More than four million Syrian citizens have been displaced as a result of the war, and live in generally over-populated, deprived and unsanitary areas. WHO has already reported an increase in diseases such as measles, typhoid and Hepatitis A.
Polio is generally spread and contracted by the consumption of food of fluid that is contaminated with faeces. Simon Ingram, spokesman for UNICEF, expressed his concerns about the disease spreading. He said: “Obviously, we’re extremely worried about the situation. People are flooding across borders in an uncontrolled manner and this increases the possibilities and means by which the virus can spread.”
Syria’s Health Ministry began a mass immunisation programme on Thursday. WHO is now also working them, along with the UN and other agencies to achieve this.
Aid agencies are also devising emergency immunisation plans for Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.
However, the BBC’s Imogen Faulkes highlights that these plans are bound to be made severely difficult by the countries delicate state, and the fact that around half of its medical professions have left it.
German epidemiologists also raised further alarms on Friday as they warned that the outbreak is potentially very dangerous to Europe owing to the variation in vaccines now used in order to fulfil the goal of safely eradicating polio.