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Issue #1617      November 6, 2013

First polio cases in Syria for 14 years

Doctors have confirmed that they have found cases of polio in Syria for the first time in 14 years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it had found 10 cases in the country’s north-east and feared the highly contagious disease – a sign of poor sanitation – could spread across the region.

WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer said all confirmed cases were among babies and toddlers who were “under-immunised.” Most Syrian children were vaccinated against the disease before fighting began more than two-and-a-half years ago.

The country again embarked on a vaccination program after WHO officials spotted signs of the disease but it has hit stumbling blocks in war-torn areas.

Mr Rosenbauer said WHO was awaiting lab results on 12 more cases. Polio usually infects children who have consumed food or liquid contaminated with faeces. It attacks nerves and can kill or paralyse, spreading unnoticed before it takes its toll.

“This is a communicable disease – with population movements it can travel to other areas,” Mr Rosenbauer said. “So the risk is high of spread across the region.”

UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said that over 500,000 Syrian children are in immediate need of vaccination. The polio outbreak “now is not only a desperate issue for Syria, but it becomes part of the global issue as well,” he said.

The UN estimates that over four million Syrians are internally displaced and a further two million have fled the country because of the prolonged uprising against Bashar al-Assad. The threat of outbreak piled further misery on Syria a day after UN inspectors revealed they’d missed their first target in destroying the country’s weapons cache.

The Nobel peace prize-winning probers said they’d been unable to visit two of the 23 target sites because of security concerns – though it was not clear if they were in government or opposition territory.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon told the Security Council he was still confident of meeting the ambitious November 1 deadline for destroying the weapons.

Morning Star

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