Middle East

Polio Returns To Syria As Health System Crumbles

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/241667344/241670556" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The World Health Organization has confirmed that polio has re-emerged in Syria for the first time in 14 years. Efforts are underway to immunize millions of children throughout the Middle East to try keep the virus from spreading.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

After weeks of uncertainty, the World Health Organization today confirmed that polio has reemerged in Syria for the first time in 14 years. Earlier this month, health officials reported that 22 children in eastern Syria were paralyzed by what appeared to be polio. And now the WHO says, so far, 10 of the cases have tested positive for polio.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Before the civil war started in 2011, Syria had one of the best polio vaccination rates in the Middle East. But as health facilities were bombed, burned and abandoned, Syria's immunization programs collapsed with them. Most of the kids who've been paralyzed in this current outbreak were born after the fighting began and were never given the simple three-drop polio vaccine.

If the once solidly middle-income nation of Syria needed any more confirmation of how far it's fallen, it now joins the ranks of Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Sudan as a country grappling with polio.

Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesman for the World Health Organization's polio eradication program, says Syria's strong pre-war vaccination programs could mean that only extremely young children are at risk.

OLIVER ROSENBAUER: Hopefully, what we're dealing with is an overall good immunization base, where you have relatively high immunity levels and a gap in very, very young children. But again, that's just speculation at the moment.

BEAUBIEN: He says mass immunization programs for all children under the age of five are being launched to try to keep the outbreak from spreading. The mass vaccination drives will need to be carried out not only in Syria but also in neighboring Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and even as far away as Egypt.

The province in Syria where the cases have been found is deeply contested by both rebels and government forces. The U.S. State Department, along with several humanitarian agencies, is calling on all parties to the Syrian conflict to allow vaccination teams access to the area.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from