TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2016

WHO to assist in mass polio immunization campaign in Middle East

The World Health Organization and UNICEF announced on Tuesday they will assist in the largest-ever immunization response in the Middle East, vaccinating more than 23 million children against polio in and around Syria.

The campaign is part of the response to an outbreak of polio in Syria, where 17 cases were confirmed. The virus was also detected in environmental samples in other parts of the Middle East.

"All Syrian children should be protected from disease," Ala Alwan, the regional director of the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region, said. "To eradicate polio, we need to eradicate any reason for failing to reach children. We appeal to all parties of the conflict in Syria to cooperate and facilitate pauses in hostilities over the coming six months to allow vaccination campaigns to reach all children."

The campaign aims to reach 2.2 million children in Syria, including children living in contested areas and individuals who were missed in an earlier campaign. Many Syrian children are inaccessible, particularly in areas where conflict is ongoing.

"As if children in Syria had not suffered enough, they now have to contend with yet another threat to their health and well-being," Maria Calivis, the UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said. "The current polio vaccination efforts are a huge undertaking by many partners, but we can only halt the spread of the virus if we reach those children who have remained out of reach."

UNICEF is planning to deliver 10 million doses of polio vaccine to Syria in the coming months. The cost to UNICEF and WHO for supporting the seven-country polio response through April is $39 million.