Polio in Syria, Israel and Egypt Puts Middle East on Edge

 polio vaccine given to child

Polio,or Poliomyelitis has not been a serious medical issue ever since the first wide scale vaccines were developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in the early 1950s.  Within the past few years, however, the often debilitating virus has began to return to epidemic proportions in many parts of the world. This includes the Middle East.

The disease, which can cause permanent paralysis of the central nervous system and debilitation of the muscular and skeletal system, has appeared recently in Egypt, Israel, and particularly in Syria, where a severe breakdown in the county’s sanitation systems due to the ongoing civil war resulted in the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF embarking on a massive campaign to immunize millions of young children in that country as well as in other parts of the Middle East.  

Most of the vaccinations given are the oral polio vaccine or OPV, which was developed by Albert Sabin in the late 1950s and came into general use in 1962.

UNICEF health officials on the ground in Syria

Israel recently conducted a mass immunization campaign on young children after the polio virus was found in sewers in Jerusalem for the first time in more than 12 years.

The virus was also found last June in raw sewage in the Bedouin town of Rahat in Israel’s Negev region. At that time, the World Health Organization issued an alert about the virus, which had been feared to have spread to Israel from African countries.

(Related: What You Should Know About Polio, posted two years ago in Green Prophet.)

While the present vaccines are effective against the spread of the disease the question may be for how long the vaccinations will be effective until the virus strains build up a resistance to them. In regards to finding solutions to the sanitation issues that may be causing the virus strains to reoccur, this could be very difficult in countries where much of the populations live in grinding poverty.

In the case of Syria, the ongoing war has resulted in an almost complete collapse of the country’s sanitation systems.

“This is a race against time,” The UN’s relief head Valerie Amos was quoted as saying; regarding WHO’s effort to vaccine more than 2.5 million Syrian children.

More articles about Polio and other serious contagious diseases in the Middle East:

What You Should Know About Polio

Bats Blamed for Deadly Middle East MERS Respiratory Virus

Swine Flu Death Toll in Middle East Region

Photo of UNICEF health workers in Za’atari Syria  Children of Syria; Photo of Child Receiving Oral Vaccine: Haaretz/AP

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