Polio Vaccine Effort in Syria Reaches 1.4 Million Children as Volunteers Brave Violence

Source: Washington Post

By: Root, Tik


A coalition of nonprofit organizations managed to deploy more than 8,000 volunteers in rebel-held Syria, win the cooperation of rebel fighters, and vaccinate 1.4 million children against polio since the start of the year. Although four volunteers were killed by the fighting, it has been almost five months since a polio case was confirmed. “Implementing the campaign is not hard from a medical standpoint,” says Dr. Abd al-Rizzaq Darweesh, who works in the northern city of Aleppo. “The difficulty is primarily the war.” Polio had not been seen in Syria since 1999, but it reemerged in October, with 35 cases being reported. This vaccination campaign is different from similar efforts in Pakistan, where volunteers face social, religious, and political backlash, because the opposition factions fighting in the northern part of Syria have largely been cooperative. Although task force members have been kidnapped or detained, Darweesh says many fighters have vaccinated their own children, and some have given safe passage to task force members or even helped convince people of the vaccine’s safety. Despite such progress, upwards of 400,000 children in besieged and hard-to-reach areas must still be vaccinated.

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