On Sunday 12 March 2017 a week-long national polio vaccination campaign started in Syria. The campaign is planned and organised by the central and local health authorities, supported by WHO and UNICEF, in 12 out 14 Governorates.
This is the first polio campaign this year, last one took place in November 2016.
The goal is to vaccinate more than 2,700,000 children under the age of five.
All governorates are covered except Al Raqqa and Idleb. Al Raqqa remains inaccessible at this stage.
Idleb is covered by operations run from Gaziantep, Turkey. A polio campaign took place in Idleb last month (February).
In 12 governorates where the campaign is ongoing, particular focus is on more than 500 000 children living in hard-to-reach (HTR) areas. Many of these children were missed in previous campaigns.
More than 7000 health workers are mobilised for this campaign. Thirty percent of them will work in mobile teams in hard-to-reach areas.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) is responsible for facilitating the delivery of vaccines to hard- to- reach and besieged areas while the vaccination teams are made up of local health workers; this is for example the case in Madaya and Douma.
WHO supports the campaign with training of health staff, covering the operational costs and with the renting of 844 vehicles.
Syria was reinfected with polio in 2013, following the virus’ importation from endemic Pakistan. The outbreak which produced 36 cases in Syria and 2 in neighbouring Iraq. It was stopped thanks to a swift and coordinated multi-partner response across the Middle East. No new cases were reported since the 21 of January 2014.
Since then, Syria has remained on guard against further importations, conducting five (this one is the 6th) mass polio vaccination campaigns since October 2015.
The total number of the polio campaigns since 2013 is 21.
Polio has been reduced 99.9% worldwide, with only 3 endemic countries remaining. As long as polio circulates anywhere in the world, children anywhere are vulnerable, especially those in conflict-affected areas where health systems are fragile and immunity is weak.
Experience shows that campaigns such as this one can prevent further spread of polio and ultimately eradicate it from the world.