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Officials urge targeting Syrians outside camps in polio immunisation

By Mohammad Ghazal - Nov 08,2014 - Last updated at Nov 08,2014

BEIRUT — With a new anti-polio immunisation campaign slated for the end of November in Jordan, officials and UN agency representatives have called for focusing on Syrians residing outside refugee camps.

They also called for raising awareness among parents on the necessity of immunising their children aged five years and younger against polio.

“In Jordan, we noticed over the past anti-polio vaccination campaigns that Jordanians’ coverage with the vaccine was higher than Syrians living in Jordanian cities and towns,” Moazzem Hossain, regional health and nutrition adviser at UNICEF, said during a workshop in Beirut on Middle East Polio Outbreak and Response held by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF on Friday.

“In camps in Jordan, the situation is under control but reaching Syrians outside refugee camps is a huge challenge,” Hossain noted.

There are some 1.5 million Syrians in Jordan of whom some 600,000 are registered as refugees with the UNHCR.

Salah Haithami, regional Middle East outbreak coordinator at WHO, said rumours circulating on social media, as well as some paediatricians who discourage parents from immunising their children are issues that hamper the increase of anti-polio campaigns’ reach in the region.

“The higher the percentage of unvaccinated children in a certain country, the more likely is a polio outbreak. This is serious and needs to be tackled,” Haithami added.

In Jordan, where four anti-polio vaccination campaigns have been held since the disease resurfaced in Syria last year, some parents are reluctant to immunise their children, Najwa Khuri-Bulos, head of the Jordan National Polio Eradication Certification Committee, told The Jordan Times during the workshop.

“Parents should not be afraid, and paediatricians play a big role in reassuring them about the vaccine,” Khuri-Bulos said.

“The vaccine is safe and not having it is the problem. The presence of a large number of Syrian refugees increased the problem, especially since many of those living outside camps do not get the vaccine,” she added.

“People should not hesitate at all. If we want to keep Jordan free of polio we need to get all children vaccinated.”

A fourth anti-polio vaccination campaign is slated for November 30 in Jordan, according to Khuri-Bulos.

Thirty-six children have been paralysed by polio in Syria, in addition to two children in Iraq. More than 25 million children in the region were vaccinated and many more children missed it, according to WHO.

Micheal Ryan, polio response coordinator at WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean regional office, called for passing proper information to parents about the vaccine.

“When parents are aware of the safety of the vaccine, they will rush to take their kids to get it,” he said.

“We are reaching a point where we may see some strict measures to make it mandatory to get this vaccine to completely eradicate polio,” Ryan said at the workshop. 

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