Via The New York Times, a January 1 op-ed piece: Syria's Raging Health Crisis. This is a truly disturbing article; you should read it all. Excerpt:
The collapse of the health system and a lack of basic sanitation in opposition-held areas have created prime conditions for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Syria eradicated polio 14 years ago; the fact that it has returned represents more than a breakdown of health care during civil war. It is symptomatic of how the international community, in its response to the crisis, has neglected public health.
Immunization coverage in what are now mainly opposition areas was already below accepted standards in 2011, but the situation has deteriorated. Data on routine immunization from the World Health Organization reveal that over the past two years a large proportion of the Syrian population has gone without vaccination.
Across Syria, coverage went down to 60 percent in 2012, and was as low as 50 percent in the embattled eastern city of Deir al-Zour, a front line between government and rebel forces.
The latest W.H.O. figures from 2013 show that the level is now down to 36 percent in largely rebel-held Deir al-Zour Province, although it has remained at 100 percent in government-controlled areas such as the western stronghold of Tartus.
Given these conditions, it was no surprise to medical practitioners that a polio outbreak occurred. The question is why the international community did not prepare better for this eventuality. A disturbing part of the answer is that the United Nations itself has aggravated the situation.
Like other United Nations agencies, the World Health Organization works directly with the Syrian government. The W.H.O.’s Syria office is in the Ministry of Health building in Damascus; many of its staff members are former ministry employees. A recent Reuters report on how the Assad government uses red tape and threats to prevent the provision of aid in opposition areas has raised doubts about the ability of the W.H.O. to act with impartiality.
The W.H.O., working with the Syrian government, excluded Deir al-Zour from a polio vaccination drive that began in December 2012. According to the W.H.O., the province “was not included in the campaign as the majority of its residents have relocated to other areas in the country.” Ten months later, this was the province where polio re-emerged.
There is no evidence that most of the province’s one million residents had, in fact, migrated. The United Nations World Food Program continued to distribute food there throughout 2012 and 2013 (with occasional interruptions because of worsening security conditions). In December 2012, the agency reached 69,000 people in Deir al-Zour.