Polio may have returned to Syria

As vaccination rates wane, the first polio cases in 14 years have been reported in the war-torn country

Published October 21, 2013 2:10PM (EDT)

Syria eliminated polio in 1999, but the country's civil war has led vaccination rates to wane -- from 95 percent in 2010 to what could have been as low as 45 percent this year. Whereas an estimated 83 percent of children in Syria were vaccinated against the disease before the war began in 2011, that number, by 2012, had fallen to 52 percent.

Now, the World Health Organization says it's received reports of a new outbreak of the disease. From NPR:

Syria used to have one of the highest polio vaccination rates in the region. If virus has returned, it would be a high-profile example of the ramifications of the collapse of Syria's once-vaunted public health system.

Initial tests from the Syrian national laboratory in Damascus suggested that polio has crippled two children in the east, the WHO said Saturday. Further laboratory tests related to the cases are underway at the WHO's regional offices.

In some areas, according to the BBC, up to 70 percent of the health force has fled, and cases of measles, typhoid and hepatitis A have also been rising.

The Syrian Ministry of Health says it's beginning emergency vaccination campaigns in the affected areas. But intense shellfire and ongoing civil unrest could make the outbreak, if confirmed, difficult to contain.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Polio Syria Syrian Civil War Vaccinations World Health Organization