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WHO Warns of Potential Polio Outbreak in Syria

Update Date: Oct 21, 2013 10:56 AM EDT
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For the first time in 14 years, Syria might be dealing with a polio outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that it has been receiving reports regarding this potential outbreak. The Syrian's Ministry of Public Health has responded to the concerns but experts are fearful that the war will hinder any progress made to control the outbreak.

According to the agency, the potential outbreak is focused in the eastern Deir al-Zour province of Syria. WHO is currently investigating a cluster of cases that could be polio. However, the cases have yet to be confirmed. WHO stated that the initial tests done by the Syrian national laboratory based in Damascus indicated that two children were affected by polio. The test results from WHO's regional offices will help confirm these cases.

"We still need final confirmation from a laboratory, but all the indicators show that this is polio," Oliver Rosenbawer from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative commented according to NPR. In the meantime, the Syrian Ministry of Health has started emergency vaccination programs within this area.

Due to the war, vaccination rates have dropped drastically from 95 percent in 2010 to around 45 percent in 2012. On top of these dips, at least one third of the public hospitals within the nation have closed with around 70 percent of medical personal fleeing the country. All of these factors contribute to the rising numbers of medical cases, such as measles, hepatitis A and typhoid.

"Given the scale of population movement both inside Syria and across borders, together with deteriorating environmental health conditions, outbreaks are inevitable," Dr. Jaouad Mahjour, director of the department for communicable diseases at WHO's regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean, said reported by BBC News.

Polio has been nearly eradicated globally over the past decades. In 2012, there were only 223 reported cases, which occurred in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Currently, the count for this year is at 296 with the majority of cases coming from Somalia. Due to the concerns over the increased number of cases and the vaccination rates in Syria, WHO has issued a surveillance alert that urges nearby nations to start supplementary polio vaccination campaigns as precautionary measures. 

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