UN undertakes polio vaccination campaign in Iraq

August 18, 2014 by Bram Janssen
An Iraqi internally displaced Yazidi child receives a polio vaccine at the town of Khanke, outside Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad on Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. The Yazidis are a centuries-old religious minority viewed as apostates by the Islamic State group, which has claimed mass killings of its opponents in Syria and Iraq. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled earlier this month when the Islamic State group captured the town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The United Nations said Monday it was undertaking a mass polio vaccination campaign in Iraq, hoping to reach millions of children as the highly contagious virus crosses from Syria into neighboring countries.

The U.N. is trying to reach 4 million under 5 throughout Iraq. The campaign was launched after two cases of were discovered in Baghdad earlier this year, said Jeffery Bates of the U.N.'s child agency, UNICEF.

Bates said the polio cases in Iraq likely crossed over from Syria, where the country's civil war has disrupted its health care system and some children have not been immunized against the highly contagious virus that can paralyze or kill.

"It was just a matter of time before it worked its way across the border into Iraq," said Bates in the city of Irbil, capital of the largely autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. "The two cases we found in Baghdad were closely related to the Syrian virus."

Polio usually strikes children under 5 and is most often spread through infected water. There is no specific cure, but several vaccines exist.

The U.N. is struggling to reach children in territory held by militants of the Islamic State group, which have seized large swaths of Iraq, including its second-largest city of Mosul. The constant flux of tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis moving around the country fleeing the extremists also is a problem, Bates said.

An Iraqi internally displaced Yazidi child receives a polio vaccine at the town of Khanke, outside Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad on Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. The Yazidis are a centuries-old religious minority viewed as apostates by the Islamic State group, which has claimed mass killings of its opponents in Syria and Iraq. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled earlier this month when the Islamic State group captured the town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

"We can't get into some areas due to security. (Others) are on the move ... (and) when we do outreach, we're unable to find them," he said.

The U.N. estimates that there are nearly 1.5 million displaced Iraqis in the country, most who fled their home as the Islamic State militant group began their sweep into western and northern Iraq in June.

An Iraqi internally displaced Yazidi child waits to receive a polio vaccine shot at a clinic in the town of Khanke, outside Dahuk, 260 miles (430 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad on Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. The Yazidis are a centuries-old religious minority viewed as apostates by the Islamic State group, which has claimed mass killings of its opponents in Syria and Iraq. Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled earlier this month when the Islamic State group captured the town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

For the first time ever, the World Health Organization in May declared the spread of polio an international public health emergency that could grow worse and unravel the nearly three-decade effort to eradicate the crippling disease.

Related Stories

UN confirms 10 polio cases in northeast Syria

October 29, 2013

The U.N.'s health agency said Tuesday it has confirmed 10 polio cases in northeast Syria, the first confirmed outbreak of the diseases in the country in 14 years, with a risk of spreading across the region.

UN says two more polio cases found in Syria

November 26, 2013

The World Health Organization says it has discovered two additional cases of the highly contagious polio virus in Syria, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 17.

Iraq reports first suspected polio case since 2000

March 26, 2014

Iraq's health ministry said Wednesday it had found its first suspected polio case in 14 years, which could have originated in neighbouring Syria where confirmed cases have sparked a region-wide alert.

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.