24 October 2016, Amman | Today, on World Polio Day, polio eradication partners celebrate the successes of the programme to date and rally for the additional support needed to wipe out the disease for good. In the Middle East, polio partners WHO and UNICEF acknowledge the hard work done to keep the region polio free, but urge all countries to maintain vigilance and to guard against the virus being re-introduced. Despite the gains, serious challenges remain, for example, conflict limits consistent access to high-risk populations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and this continues to hinder efforts to vaccinate every single child under five, and compromises surveillance and early warning systems.
“The continued efforts of governments, partners and communities to protect children in the Middle East from polio have been truly remarkable,” said Chris Maher, manager of WHO’s regional polio eradication group based in Amman. “But we are not out of the woods yet. Polio continues to circulate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and recently made a comeback in Nigeria, and so long as there is transmission anywhere, children in the Middle East remain at risk,” he added. “We cannot afford to be complacent; we must ensure systems are strong enough to keep polio out of the region, until the job is finished in all parts of the world,” he said.
“Polio resurged in Syria in 2013 and Iraq in 2014, after 14 years of absence in the Middle East. An 18-month multi-country, multi-partner outbreak response, including more than 50 rounds of polio campaigns, successfully stopped the spread of the virus and again made the Middle East polio-free. It is now essential to strengthen routine immunization in all countries in the region and focus on high risk areas to ensure every child is vaccinated, to prevent future outbreaks,” said Anirban Chatterjee, the chief of Health and Nutrition in UNICEF Regional office for MENA.
Over the past 12 months, in addition to polio endemic countries Pakistan and Afghanistan, WHO and UNICEF have supported polio campaigns in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Djibouti, Jordan and Lebanon. Campaigns will continue in countries with higher risk until polio is eradicated worldwide.