GAZA, 9 December 2013 – Joining efforts to stop a polio outbreak in Syria from spreading across the region, UNICEF is supporting Palestinian Ministry of Health partners to immunize up to 630,000 children aged five years and younger against polio.
The campaign, launched in the West Bank and Gaza yesterday, is part of the largest-ever immunization effort in the Middle East, targeting to vaccinate some 23 million children in seven countries against the highly infectious virus.
“It is impressive to see the very high levels of vaccination and turnout in Gaza,” said Yoka Brandt, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, as she gave drops of oral vaccine to a baby at the al-Daraj clinic in Gaza City. “However it is essential to step up the efforts here and in other countries of the region to avoid a regional public health crisis,” she added.
UNICEF has provided the Palestinian Ministry of Health with vaccines and logistical support for the national immunization effort, and is supporting a public information campaign urging parents to have their children immunized. Thousands of posters are being displayed in clinics and public places, and messages on the importance of immunizing children are being spread through the local media, and by community and religious leaders.
The national immunization campaign, implemented with the support of UNICEF, WHO, and UNRWA, will take place until 12 December, and again from 12 to 16 January. A two-dose trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV) is administered, with one month interval between the first and second doses.
Polio, a virus that enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestines, attacking the nervous system, is highly infectious, and can cause irreversible paralysis.
In October, a polio outbreak was confirmed in strife-riven Syria, with some cases being the result of wild polio virus type 1. The unprecedented response to polio virus circulation in the region includes plans for a six-month sustained effort of intense immunization activity.