Nov 10, 2013 – Foreign fighters appear to be the source of the outbreak of polio in Syria that risks infecting hundreds of thousands of children in the region.
Initial tests indicate that the poliovirus detected in Syria is of Pakistani origin, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
Pakistan is one of only three countries – along with Afghanistan and Nigeria – where the virus remains endemic. The BBC reported in July that the Pakistan Taliban had set up a base inside Syria to join the fight against the Assad regime.
Syria had been polio free for fourteen years prior to the outbreak and the virus had not been detected in neighboring countries in the past decade but so far this year has been found in sewage samples in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Polio affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours. It usually affects children under five and is typically spread through contact with contaminated feces.
Children usually require four doses of the polio vaccine before school-age to provide lifelong protection against the virus.
As a result of the conflict, immunization rates have plummeted from 92 percent before the conflict to 67 percent as of 2012, according to UNICEF.
WHO and UNICEF aim to vaccinate 20 million children in Syria and neighboring countries in the coming months to prevent an epidemic.
– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter: @denisfitz