News / Middle East

Syrian Children Struck With Polio

A health worker administers polio vaccination to a child in Raqqa, eastern Syria, Nov.18, 2013.
A health worker administers polio vaccination to a child in Raqqa, eastern Syria, Nov.18, 2013.
A strain of polio originating in Pakistan has crippled more than a dozen children in war-torn Syria.  The cases were confirmed in a province bordering the Kurdish-controlled northeast, but the Kurds are running out of vaccine and say the United Nations has declined to give them more.

The anxiety on the face of Dr. Soliman Ahmed is obvious as he explains how fearful he and others at the Kurdish Red Crescent are about the possibility of a polio epidemic in northeast Syria.

Arab refugees are flooding into Syria’s Kurdistan from the neighboring province of Deir al-Zor, where the World Health Organization confirmed last month an outbreak of polio that could potentially put neighboring countries and even Europe at risk of contagion. 

“We started to get worried because we have a lot of displaced people from north of Syria, including Deir al-Zor, so we are worried that we could have among us now some cases, and so we started a massive case of vaccination about a month ago,” said Dr. Ahmed.

Polio is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause paralysis and breathing problems, with more severe cases leading to death.  Polio is harbored in the intestinal system and can be transmitted either orally, including from coughs or sneezes, or through contact with infected feces.

So far, 22 cases have been confirmed in Deir al-Zor.  The World Health Organization is alarmed that the once-rare disease could be resurrected and has declared a polio emergency across the Middle East.

WHO said the strain found in Deir al-Zor was linked to the strain of Pakistani origin found in sewage in Egypt, Israel and Palestinian territories in the past year.  Along with along with other international agencies, the WHO is scrambling to stymie Syria's first outbreak in 14 years through a massive vaccination campaign.

But Syria’s Kurdistan was not part of that U.N. vaccination campaign despite its closeness to Deir al-Zor, said Kurdish doctors.  Maha Omo of the Kurdish Red Crescent said they held two meetings with U.N. representatives recently.

“We discussed our needs for medication and children's milk.  We were told we can’t help you because the Syrians objected to giving you anything, you have to be under the umbrella of the Syrian Arabic Red Crescent and that’s why we can’t give you anything,” said Omo.

The forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fell back from large swathes of Kurdistan in the early months of the two-and-half year civil war and the Kurds are now mainly in control of their region.  The Kurdish Red Crescent is not affiliated with the official Syrian Red Crescent and is not getting any polio vaccine supplies from the Syrian authorities.

A UNICEF spokeswoman, Juliette Touma, said the challenge facing the U.N. agencies in Syria was immense. She said UNICEF and partners had vaccinated about 1.4 million children inside Syria including some in highly contested areas such as Deir al-Zor.

She said the campaign was hard to do given the ongoing conflict, and UNICEF needed commitment from warring parties if the planned six rounds of vaccinations were to be completed as scheduled by April.

But several months ago in an interview with VOA, the head of the World Food Program, Etharin Cousin, explained that the U.N. was obliged to work with the official Syrian agencies for the distribution of emergency supplies.  It is a position rebels battling to oust President Assad and some private international charities have criticized in the past.

In a letter published this month in the British medical journal The Lancet, German polio experts Martin Eichner and Stefan Brockmann warned that Syrian refugee flows would spread the disease and could reach Europe, which has been polio-free for more than 10 years.

Dr. Ahmed said the Kurdish Red Crescent launched a vaccination campaign of its own when news emerged of the polio outbreak and they tried to vaccinate up to 5,000 children a day.  But the campaign is losing momentum.

“We don’t have enough vaccination to vaccinate all the children between the newborn until the age of five,” he said.

Increasing numbers of refugees are moving through Kurdistan to flee north into Turkey, raising the risk that polio could spread there as well.

You May Like

Photogallery Snowstorm Sweeps Northeastern US

'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says; he had earlier warned storm could be one of worst the city has ever faced More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle With Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
November 26, 2013 11:20 AM
Cause for polio outbreak, the al-qaida REBELS, polio strain traces from Pakistani rebel fighters. TYVM.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid