Refugees from rebel-held areas most vulnerable.
The New York Times published this opinion piece from medical professionals about the likelihood that unvaccinated Syrians will bring polio with them to neighboring countries. They place the blame on the UN.
From the NYT (Syria’s raging health crisis):
Across Syria, coverage went down to 60 percent in 2012, and was as low as 50 percent in the embattled eastern city of Deir al-Zour, a front line between government and rebel forces. The latest W.H.O. figures from 2013 show that the level is now down to 36 percent in largely rebel-held Deir al-Zour Province, although it has remained at 100 percent in government-controlled areas such as the western stronghold of Tartus.
Given these conditions, it was no surprise to medical practitioners that a polio outbreak occurred. The question is why the international community did not prepare better for this eventuality. A disturbing part of the answer is that the United Nations itself has aggravated the situation.
Like other United Nations agencies, the World Health Organization works directly with the Syrian government. The W.H.O.’s Syria office is in the Ministry of Health building in Damascus; many of its staff members are former ministry employees. A recent Reuters report on how the Assad government uses red tape and threats to prevent the provision of aid in opposition areas has raised doubts about the ability of the W.H.O. to act with impartiality.
The W.H.O., working with the Syrian government, excluded Deir al-Zour from a polio vaccination drive that began in December 2012. According to the W.H.O., the province “was not included in the campaign as the majority of its residents have relocated to other areas in the country.” Ten months later, this was the province where polio re-emerged. [I think the greater likelihood here is that no aid workers wanted to risk their lives with the Islamic militants who don’t want children vaccinated.—ed]
There is no evidence that most of the province’s one million residents had, in fact, migrated. The United Nations World Food Program continued to distribute food there throughout 2012 and 2013 (with occasional interruptions because of worsening security conditions). In December 2012, the agency reached 69,000 people in Deir al-Zour.
Last month, an investigation by the German weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel charged the W.H.O. with obstructing the testing of polio samples from the Deir al-Zour region. These samples had been presented by an agency working under the aegis of the Syrian National Coalition. It took nearly a month to get the test results — positive for poliomyelitis — and then only from an independent provider in Turkey. By that time, thousands of displaced people had moved within Syria or fled as refugees to neighboring countries, most likely spreading the disease.
There is more, read it all.
The photo is from this story at NBC News from November. It is worth reading.
Just a reminder, we have a ‘health issues’ category here at RRW with 187 previous posts about refugee health problems. A couple of recent posts in the category address the growing concern about Syrians with polio.