BEIRUT – An outbreak of
An emergency drive to prevent the transmission of the crippling ailment and other preventable diseases has already resulted in the
The outbreak has left 10 children paralyzed and poses a threat to hundreds of thousands across a region that had not seen polio for nearly a decade, the U.N. said. It is the first polio outbreak in 14 years in Syria, where immunization rates have plummeted since the civil war broke out more than two years ago.
The polio cases underscore how the Syrian civil war has spawned an escalating humanitarian crisis, especially in areas outside government control. Hospitals and clinics have been destroyed, medicines looted and trashed, healthcare workers have fled and sanitary conditions have deteriorated in many areas.
Humanitarian agencies have expressed concern about rising indications of malnutrition in some besieged zones, where food is in short supply.
The approach of winter has spurred urgent calls for additional aid and humanitarian access to needy civilians caught in war zones.
“The polio outbreak in Syria is not just a tragedy for children: It is an urgent alarm, and a crucial opportunity to reach all under-immunized children wherever they are,” Peter Crowley, who heads
In the last 12 months, the U.N. said, the polio
The polio virus usually infects children in unsanitary conditions via close person-to-person contact and consumption of food and drink contaminated with feces. The virus attacks the nerves and can kill and paralyze, spreading rapidly among children and often goes unnoticed until it begins to cripple its victims, the U.N. said.
Once a global scourge, polio has been eradicated in much of the world and remains endemic only in parts of three countries -- Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria -- down from 125 nations in 1988, according to the World Health Organization.
There is no cure for polio, which can be prevented only through immunization.
The six-month accelerated immunization campaign is targeting 2.4 million children in Syria with vaccines against polio,
Vaccination drives are also underway in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, all home to major populations of Syrian refugees, with further efforts scheduled in Turkey and Egypt. Immunization drives also are planned in the West Bank and Gaza, the U.N. said.
The war in Syria has left more than 100,000 people dead and forced more than one-third of the country's 23 million residents from their homes, with more than 2 million Syrians having fled the country, according to U.N. estimates.