The UNICEF and the World Health Organization led a vaccination drive in conflict-ridden Syria where more than 355,000 children were given protection against an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio.

Syria, prior to the conflict in 2011, was polio-free with 80 percent vaccination national coverage. But war affected health infrastructures as well as some health systems including routine immunization services, such as those in the governorates of Deir Ez Zor and Raqqa.

Now, the WHO reports national coverage is down to just a little over 40 percent, making thousands of children susceptible to the paralyzing disease.

Thirty-three children under five have been paralyzed since August 18, according to WHO Syria Representative ELizabeth Hoff. She likewise noted that since they can detect the nature of the outbreak in the country, this only meant that the surveillance system is still working.

WHO Communications Officer for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative Oliver Rosenbauer was quoted by Reuters as saying that immunization rates need to be at 80 percent to be able to protect a population.

“UNICEF applauds local partners and health workers for their extraordinary efforts and commitment to vaccinate children against this crippling effects of polio. No child should have to live with the devastating effects of polio,” said UNICEF Representative to Syria Fran Equiza.

For the outreach campaign, WHO and UNICEF funded and trained more than 1,000 field volunteers to work in vaccinating the children.

The agencies also provided the vaccines and cold chain equipment, and ensured the vaccines’ transfer to the conflict areas.

Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a highly infectious viral disease which mainly affects young children. The pathogen can invade the nervous system - from the intestine where it multiplies - and then cause paralysis.

“UNICEF and WHO will continue engaging with local partners and health personnel in Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor Governorates to protect all children from polio. Both agencies call on all parties in the conflict to allow vaccinators full access to children in need,” the agencies said in a press statement.

UNICEF is an agency attached to the United Nations dedicated to assisting mothers and children. It is active in 190 countries and territories. MIMS

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