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article imageA look at polio outbreak fears in Syria

By Layne Weiss     Oct 21, 2013 in Health
Damascus - The World Health Organization has recorded the first suspected outbreak of polio in Syria in 14 years, renewing panic at the collapse of health care as a result of the country's civil war.
Doctors in Syria have also reported a rise in diseases such a typhoid, hepatitis, and the flesh-eating parasite leishmaniasis, The Telegraph reports. This is being blamed in some measure on the country's inability to administer a proper vaccination program and also partly on poor living conditions as well as much-reduced access to health care.
According to BBC News, Dr Jaouad Mahjour, director of the department for communicable diseases at WHO's regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean, said: "Given the scale of population movement both inside Syria and across borders, together with deteriorating environmental health conditions, outbreaks are inevitable."
About 22 people in the northeastern province of Deir Ezzor are now exhibiting symptoms which are "very likely" to be polio, Oliver Rosenbawer, from the World Health Organization's Global Polio Eradication Initiative told The Telegraph.
"We still need final confirmation from a laboratory, but all the indicators show that this is polio," said Mr Rosenbawer.
According to BBC News, a lab in Damascus has indicated that it is almost certain that at least two of the cases are indeed polio.
Before this outbreak, the last recorded outbreak of polio in Syria was in 1999.
WHO's International Travel and Health recommends that all travelers to and from polio-infested areas be fully vaccinated against the disease.
Most people infected with polio have no idea they even have it. They have no symptoms or signs of illness. People can carry the virus in their intestines and silently spread the infection to thousands of other people before paralysis starts. Polio is spread by eating or drinking food or drink which has been contaminated with feces, or much, much more rarely, it can be spread directly from person-to-person through sharing saliva.
Vaccinations programs have effectually decreased the number of polio cases, and the disease is now targeted for world annihilation. In the last century, the number of cases around the globe has decreased from 350,000 in 1988 to 223 reported last year, according to the World Health Organization, The Telegraph reports.
"We are worried about the suspected outbreak in Syria," said Mr Rosenbawer. "As long as there is polio in one place, countries around the world are at risk. The tragedy is that there is no cure; once you have polio, it is for life. So the only way is to tackle it is through vaccination."
Immunization against polio and other diseases is already extremely difficult to attain in Syria, even without the almost constant shellfire and airstrikes, kidnappings, and other horrors caused by the civil war. It is a complete nightmare.
The Syrian conflict has destroyed or damaged at least 35% of the country's public hospitals and in some areas close to 70% of health workers have escaped.
Recently, the WHO set up an "Early Warning and Response System" aimed to quickly identify possible outbreaks of serious diseases in Syria. Such programs have been used in Europe and other places around the world. Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the program said,
"We have 291 public health providers in government and opposition-held areas reporting suspected diseased that we then investigate. This network has detected hepatitis A, leishmaniasis, typhoid and measles."
The aforementioned measles outbreak which started in northern Syria has now reportedly landed in Lebanon.
The revelation that polio was spreading in Syria came as Western diplomats were preparing to try and convince Syrian opposition leaders to take part in a peace in conference in Geneva next month.
More about World health organization, Polio, Syria, Civil War, Healthcare
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