UNICEF begins polio vaccination campaign in Middle East

UNICEF announced on Monday that the organization and its partners began the largest-ever coordinated polio vaccination campaign in the Middle East following the return of the disease in war-torn Syria.

Health teams are working to vaccinate close to 10 million children in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Syria during the month of March. The campaigns were launched in the four countries on Sunday with a similar campaign planned in Lebanon.

"We need to get two drops of polio vaccine into the mouth of every child under the age of five, regardless of their previous immunization history," Khouzama al-Rasheed, a medical worker for the campaign, said. "If we can do that, the virus won't be able to find a single child to infect, and we can put a stop to this disease."

The vaccination campaign is part of a regional response to the discovery of wild poliovirus in Syria. The disease may have originated in Pakistan and the campaign is meant to keep the virus from spreading quickly. Seven Middle Eastern countries plan to vaccinate more than 22 million children over the course of six months.

"Polio doesn't respect borders," Ala Alwan, the Eastern Mediterranean director for the World Health Organization, said. "The detection of polio in Syria is not Syria's problem alone but one requiring a regional response. The safety of children across the Middle East relies on us being able to put a stop to polio in Syria."

The March vaccination round will be Syria's fourth since polio was identified there in 2013. Vaccination rounds in January and February reached all governorates in the country.