Washington, DC – It has been one year since the last polio case was reported in Syria. This great achievement is a testament to those involved in the polio outbreak response, particularly the Polio Control Task Force of which SAMS is a member, and the Syrian medical personnel on the ground.
The polio immunization rate is now close to the pre-conflict level. Immunization rates were upwards of 90 percent before 2011, and dropped to around 50 percent as the conflict disrupted the healthcare infrastructure and routine vaccinations.
Polio was reported in Syria in October 2013, and within a month 17 children had been paralyzed by polio in three different governorates. Before this recent outbreak, the virus had not been seen in the country since 1999.
In order to address the sudden spike in polio diagnoses in Syria, the Polio Control Task Force was formed by eight Syrian and regional NGOs, including SAMS. The Task Force successfully reached more than 1.4 million children in their door-to-door vaccination campaign in northern and northeastern Syria. The targeted regions had been inaccessible to WHO and the Syrian Ministry of Health – the networks of SAMS and other local partners were essential to delivering the much needed immunizations to many isolated communities. The Task Force was the first cross-border relief effort of its kind and reached areas previously left vulnerable.
Medical personnel on the ground ensured the establishment of immunization facilities, personnel training, and vaccine delivery and tracking, all while their lives were at risk. Doctors and other health workers are targeted in Syria through arrest, torture, detainment, and even death. Physicians for Human Rights has documented the killing of 599 medical personnel since the beginning of the conflict. Violence against doctors and the targeting of hospitals is a blatant violation of humanitarian law under the Geneva Convention.