As summer approaches, health agencies are warning of the risk of polio spreading across the Middle East from Syria – where now more than 100 children show symptoms of the disease – despite a massive campaign to vaccinate millions of children in surrounding countries.
Syria was declared free of polio in 1999. But the disease re-emerged last year, after two years of conflict. The World Health Organization (WHO) says there are now 25 laboratory-confirmed cases in the country, with another 13 confirmations pending. But Syrian doctors put the number of children with clinical symptoms of polio much higher, at at least 110. And for every victim, there are at least 200 people – some doctors say up to 1,000 – carrying and spreading the virus.
Vaccination rates in Syria fell from 91% of children before the war to an estimated 68% in 2012. But those are national figures. In rebel-held territory, where all the polio cases so far have occurred, immunisation levels are much lower. The Syrian government says it has continued to vaccinate across the country during the conflict – a claim supported by the WHO, but disputed by many Syrian doctors and foreign health experts. They believe the regime withheld vaccine from clinics in the rebel-held north as another means of waging war on civilians.
Countries in the rest of the Middle East are seeking to increase their level of vaccinations, but many parents around the region fear the impact for their children. Many will die, but many will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.
Ask God for mercy, for hope, for justice for children and for his compassion on these families.
Read the report at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26734465