Syrian children in the Zaatari refugee camp near Mafraq, Jordan.
Due to a polio outbreak in eastern Syria, the organization Save the Children pleaded Tuesday with both the government and rebels to instate a ceasefire and allow access to hundreds of thousands of young ones threatened by the pernicious disease. The outbreak was confirmed by the World Health Organization as well as the country’s government in Damascus to be the first incidences of polio there in 14 years. Although 10 cases of the contagious, crippling disease have been confirmed, several others remain to be investigated. Sadly, the outbreak is another consequence of the ongoing brutalities that have left half a million children under the age of 5 unvaccinated. According to The Guardian:
The call came as prospects for peace talks receded yet again. The UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was said after talks in Damascus to be resigned to postponing the long-awaited Geneva II conference from next month to January….
The news will galvanise international attempts to secure safe access for humanitarian relief workers – even if the prospects for talks between President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition remain poor. Assad’s international position has improved since he agreed to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal after the attacks in the Ghouta area in August.
Justin Forsyth of Save the Children said: “Polio doesn’t respect conflict lines or borders so we need these ceasefires to reach all children with vaccines, no matter where they live. If chemical weapons inspectors can be allowed access across Syria with notebooks, surely aid workers can be allowed in with vaccines.”
Local progress on humanitarian relief was reported on Tuesday from the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya after the relaxation of a government blockade. Muadhamiya had been closed off since March and supplies had been running desperately short. The situation had become so desperate that Muslim clerics issued a fatwa allowing people to eat cats, dogs and donkeys in order to survive.
“We didn’t see a piece of bread for nine months,” one woman told the BBC. “We were eating leaves and grass.” Men who were allowed to leave were facing questions about their involvement in fighting.
Polio, an incurable, deadly disease, leads to paralysis in many cases, and death in others. Before the civil war broke out in Syria more than two years ago, the majority of children were immunized against polio. Now, with so many children left without vaccines, in addition to the Syrians’ migrations into nearby countries, the risk of polio spreading is significant and alarming.