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Campaign Underway to Stem Polio Outbreak in Syria's Deir Ezzor

Deir Ezzor Syria

A United Nations-led polio immunization campaign to stem an outbreak of this crippling disease is under way in Syria's Deir Ezzor Governorate. The campaign, headed by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund, started on July 22.

The campaign got off to a good start. The World Health Organization reports that hundreds of vaccinators going door to door in this embattled Syrian city managed to inoculate nearly 60,000 children under the age of five on the first day. Security problems had delayed the start of the campaign in Deir Ezzor and continue to pose dangers for the health workers.

WHO reports 89 cases of acute flaccid paralysis, which is mainly caused by a wild polio virus, have been detected this year in Deir Ezzor. It also reports another 26 cases of vaccine-derived polio type 2 cases in the area.

The agency says one case of vaccine-derived polio has been discovered in Tell Abyad district in Raqqa along with 14 cases of acute flaccid paralysis in the whole region.

WHO spokesman Tariq Jasarevic said the campaign aims to vaccinate 328,000 children in Deir Ezzor and 120,000 children in Raqqa, when a planned vaccination campaign in that governorate gets under way.

"Hopefully, we will be able to stop this outbreak because even though the vaccine-derived polio is in a way less virulent than the wild polio, it is paralyzing children and it also reflects that there is a low level of immunization," he said.

WHO reports 355 vaccination teams from local non-governmental organizations are immunizing children at fixed sites or going door to door to make sure no child is missed. Jasarevic said the community acceptance is high.

He said two immunization rounds are planned for Deir Ezzor, although no date for the second round has been set. He said polio vaccines for two rounds have been shipped to Qamishli, in preparation for the planned campaign in Raqqa; however, the raging battle to retake Raqqa — Islamic State's de facto capital — from the militants puts the starting date of the polio immunization campaign in the outskirts of the city in question.