News / Middle East

Polio Confirmed in Syria

A Syrian refugee girl helps her brother, who the family suspects has polio, to walk as their mother watches, in a mosque compound in the Shebaa area, southern Lebanon, Oct. 28, 2018.
A Syrian refugee girl helps her brother, who the family suspects has polio, to walk as their mother watches, in a mosque compound in the Shebaa area, southern Lebanon, Oct. 28, 2018.
Lisa Schlein
The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has confirmed 10 cases of polio detected in northeast Syria in mid-October.  The WHO warns protective measures must be taken to prevent the crippling disease from spreading in the region.  

The World Health Organization says 12 other suspected cases of polio are still under investigation.  A spokesman for WHO’s Polio Eradication Program says in a VOA interview there are no additional so-called hot cases at the moment.

Oliver Rosenbauer says disease surveillance is ongoing in Syria and in neighboring countries to look for other cases of acute flaccid paralysis.  But, for now, he says the only known cases are the 22 in Deir Ezzor that were detected and initially reported on October 17.

“The next step will be to genetically look at these isolated viruses and see where they came from.  So that should give some clarity on the origin.  In terms of the danger, of course, this is a communicable disease, and with population movements it can travel.  It can travel to other areas, and so the risk is high of spreading across the region," said Rosenbauer.

This is the first outbreak of polio in Syria in 14 years.  The WHO says most of the victims are children under the age of two, who probably were not vaccinated against the disease. There is no cure for this crippling disease. But polio can be prevented through immunization.

Before the war broke out in 2011, 95 percent of Syria’s children were vaccinated against polio. The WHO estimates half-a-million have not been immunized.  The United Nations and other health agencies are in the middle of a two-week campaign to immunize 2.4 million children in Syria against the disease.

Rosenbauer says plans are afoot to begin large-scale polio immunization campaigns in neighboring countries in early November.  He says the wild poliovirus travels silently across borders.  

He says polio is a very dangerous and debilitating disease, which must be stopped before it spreads.  He says the presence of this virus in Syria, a previously polio-free country, is of great concern.

“I think what this really shows is that polio-free areas everywhere in the world are at risk as long as you have endemic transmission of the virus remaining anywhere.  And, of course, the endemic countries, there are three of them - as you know, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan - so, it is from there that polio will continue to spread.  And I think countries with complex emergencies, where health systems tend to deteriorate, where immunization levels drop, children in those areas are particularly at risk of diseases such as polio,"  he said.

There were 350,000 cases of polio when the World Health Organization began its global polio eradication campaign in 1988.  The number of cases has now dropped by 99 percent.  But getting rid of the few remaining cases of this crippling disease from the last three endemic, conflict-ridden countries is proving to be an enormous challenge.

The World Health Organization warns as long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid