On October 24th, World Polio Day, it was ironically, and unfortunately, announced that a resurgence of polio was reported in Syria after a 14-year absence. At least 22 people are suspected to have polio in Syria. Two initial lab reports are positive for polio, and final results are expected next week. According to WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer, these reports are “very, very likely” to be positive for polio.

Polio was once a feared disease that preyed mainly on children. It crept up suddenly and resulted in permanent paralysis and potentially death. Thankfully, polio has been reduced by 99 percent, and endemic polio has decreased from 125 to 3 countries: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This work has saved over 10 million people from polio. As there is no cure for polio, this work has been accomplished through successfully immunizing communities with access to healthcare.

The goal of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, of which WHO is a member, is to reach every last child with polio vaccine and ensure a polio-free world for future generations. Currently, the most poor and marginalized are victims to polio, most notably children in these communities. In Syria, victims of acute flaccid paralysis are children under the age of five. In the eastern province of n Deir al-Zor, more than 100,000 children under the age of five are currently at risk of contracting polio.

As of now, there have been 296 cases of polio worldwide this year. With the breakout in Syria this number is expected to rapidly increase. The only effective response to this outbreak is vaccination. Discussions to coordinate a vaccination campaign in Syria have been ongoing since November 2012. However, logistics were not in place and now at least 22 children are suspected to have polio–a preventable disease they will most likely die from.

As Syria is in the midst of a 2 ½ year civil war, 2 million Syrians have been displaced, and 100,000 have been killed as of September. Additionally, millions more have been displaced inside the country. The civil war has made it difficult for Syrians to receive basic services or to find food and water, much less maintain sanitary living conditions.

In response to these conditions, UNICEF had recently charted a plane to Syria full of food and vaccines. Unfortunately, no polio vaccine was on this cargo, which is currently en route via truck to Syria. With 99 percent of the world’s population free from the dangers of polio, the work of fully eradicating polio is almost complete; and vaccines are the answer.

Every child needs to be vaccinated in order to globally eradicate polio. There are two forms of vaccine available to ward off polio – oral polio vaccine (OPV) and inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Because OPV is an oral vaccine, it can be administered by anyone, even volunteers. One dose of OPV can cost as little as 11 US cents.

Eradicating polio is within our reach. In the meantime, vaccines are needed in Syria.

Caressa Kruth

Sources: Reuters, WHO, BBC, CNN
Photo: Foreign Policy