GENEVA, Switzerland, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Health officials in Syria and UNICEF say they are mobilizing an effort to vaccinate 2.4 million children against polio, measles, mumps and rubella.
"The conflict in Syria has caused immense displacement, with millions of children on the move, either inside the country or across borders into neighboring countries and beyond," UNICEF said in a statement. "As a result, routine immunization systems so critical to preventing childhood diseases have been disrupted or broken down, and children are now at far higher risk of diseases such as polio and measles."
Syria is awaiting confirmation of suspected polio cases in the east of the country. However, UNICEF has joined the World Health Organization and other partners in mounting a large-scale immunization effort aimed at protecting as many children as possible both in Syria and across the region against polio, as well as other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Earlier in the month, a cluster of "hot" acute flaccid paralysis -- weakness, paralysis and reduced muscle tone without other obvious cause such as trauma -- which could be polio. It was detected in Deir Al Zour province and is currently being investigated, World Health Organization officials said.
"Initial results from the national polio laboratory in Damascus indicated two of the cases could be positive for polio -- final results are being awaited from the regional reference laboratory of the Eastern Mediterranean Region of WHO."
Wild poliovirus was last reported in Syria in 1999 and prior to the conflict, immunization coverage in Syria was about 95 percent, UNICEF officials said.
About 500,000 children in Syria have not been vaccinated against polio in the past two years due to insecurity and access constraints.