The re-emergence of the highly infectious disease is a clear sign that the public health system in Syria has collapsed. "Because of the war, many children did not receive routine vaccinations. This allowed the virus to spread," says Dr Oliver Hoffmann, Public Health Adviser at Johanniter International Assistance. A dreaded disease up until the 1950s, poliomyelitis – also known as infantile paralysis or polio – was considered eradicated in most countries due to systematic immunisation. "There is no cure and multiple doses of the vaccine are the only way to protect people from the disease", says Hoffmann.
However, immunising children multiple times in a war zone is a major challenge for aid organisations. Due to continuous fighting, vaccination campaign hade to be interrupted several times.
The campaign focused on the area surrounding Dara'a, close to the Jordanian border, and was carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Dara’a has seen some of the heaviest fighting in Syria and the healthcare system has almost completely collapsed. The vaccination campaign aimed to stop the outbreak of polio as quickly as possible and thus prevented the disease from spreading further.
Another difficulty the project faced was that the population of Dara'a was forced to flee repeatedly to seek protection from the ongoing fighting. "We were only able to reach the people thanks to local staff who knew the area well", says Walter Berier, Johanniter Country Director in Jordan. "In this way, we were able to reach our goal and immunise more than 90 percent of all children under five with the full required doses of the vaccine, which requires multiple follow ups." The staff of our partner organisation also informed more than 120.000 people about the disease and how to protect themselves from an infection.
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