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As Polio Spreads to Iraq , UNICEF & WHO Aim to Immunize 20 Million Children

10-day-old Mohammed receives his immunization against polio at a UNICEF-supported health center in the Domiz camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq.

10-day-old Mohammed receives his immunization against polio at a UNICEF-supported health center in the Domiz camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq. © UNICEF/UKLA2014-04607/KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER

Polio vaccination campaigns commenced in Syria, Iraq and Egypt early this month, aiming to reach more than 20 million children.

For Iraq, this will be the first nationwide vaccination campaign since a case of polio was confirmed by the Ministry of Health in March in a six-month-old boy from Rusafa, northern Baghdad.

“The recent detection of a polio case in Iraq after a 14-year absence is a reminder of the risk currently facing children throughout the region,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“It is now even more imperative to boost routine immunizations to reach every child multiple times and do whatever we can to vaccinate children we could not reach in previous rounds. That’s the only way we will prevent this outbreak from spreading further.”

The current campaigns are part of a comprehensive response to the announcement that wild poliovirus of Pakistani origin had found its way to Syria. Since October 2013, 25 polio vaccination campaigns were completed across the region, including five rounds in Syria and six in Iraq.

The numbers of children being vaccinated in each round is rising; however, the campaign has yet to reach especially vulnerable groups who are on the move fleeing violence in Syria or living in the midst of active conflict.

Since the outbreak was announced UNICEF has delivered 14 million doses of polio vaccines to Syria.

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Children in the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq in February 2014.

Children in the Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq in February 2014. The outbreak of polio in Syria has put children at risk throughout the region. © UNICEF/UKLA2014-04757/KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER

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