Via The Guardian: UN brands polio outbreak in Syria and Iraq 'most challenging in history'. Excerpt:
A UN agency has described the eruption of polio in Syria as perhaps "the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication" after the number of cases in the war-ravaged country reached 38 and the first case was confirmed in neighbouring Iraq.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Iraqi case – found in a six-month-old unvaccinated child in Baghdad – is related to the outbreak in Syria, fuelling fears that the virus is spreading around the Middle East.
"The current polio outbreak in Syria – now with one confirmed case in Iraq – is arguably the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication," said a spokesman for the UN relief and works agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).
"Seriously damaged health infrastructure, poor health access and utilisation because of insecurity inside Syria, and massive movements of vulnerable and at-risk populations in and out of Syria – all make controlling the outbreak and rendering health protection to Palestine refugees in Syria and across the region very challenging."
The same factors, he added, made it hard to guarantee 100% immunisation coverage and to maintain the cold chain needed to protect vaccines from heat.
The UNRWA is part of the team, led by the WHO and Unicef, that has fought to contain the virus since it was detected in Syria for the first time in 14 years last October. Until this week, Iraq had not reported a case since 2000.
In the five months since polio was confirmed, more than 22 million children in seven countries – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine – have been vaccinated as part of the largest vaccination campaign in the history of the Middle East.
"Since we got the confirmation of the outbreak at the end of October last year, the response was as rapid as possible," said Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for Unicef.
"Have we reached every child we wanted to reach? The answer is no, we haven't, and this is largely because of access restrictions. The severity of the conflict makes people move all the time and we have displacement on a daily basis, so the ability to control the disease is a challenge."