Syrian civilians evacuate the war-battered suburb of Damascus, Moadamiyet Al Sham, yesterday with the help of the Social Affairs Ministry, as fighting between pro-government troops and rebel fighters continues.
GENEVA: Polio has broken out among young children in northeast Syria, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed yesterday, and could spread inside and outside the country, where civil war has led to falling vaccination rates.
Polio, a crippling disease caused by a virus transmitted via contaminated food and water, can spread rapidly among children under five, especially in the kind of unsanitary conditions endured by the displaced in Syria or crowded refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Twenty-two children in Deir Al Zor province bordering Iraq became paralysed on October 17 and WHO’s regional laboratory in Tunis has isolated the wild polio virus in samples taken from 10 victims. Results on the other 12 are expected within days.
“Out of those 22 being investigated, 10 are now confirmed to be due to polio virus,” Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman of the WHO polio eradication programme, told a news briefing in Geneva.
Most victims are under two years old and are believed never to have been vaccinated or to have received only a single dose of the oral vaccine instead of the three which ensure protection from polio, he said.
Half a million children in Syria have not been vaccinated against polio and debilitating diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella because of war, according to the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef).
It is Syria’s first polio outbreak since 1999, according to WHO, the United Nations health agency.
“Immunisations have started in that area,” Rosenbauer said, referring to Deir Al Zor.
The city of Deir Al Zor is partly controlled by Syrian government forces while the surrounding countryside is in the hands of rebels fighting to remove President Bashar Al Assad.
Some 65,000 children under five in Deir al-Zor province are deemed vulnerable, according to the WHO’s latest estimate.