By Gopinath Durairajan
Anbar Province, Iraq, 01 April, 2014- Despite ongoing civil unrest and security threats, UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and other partners have carried out a supplementary polio vaccination campaign in the western province of Anbar, on the border with Syria.
Health workers fanned out in the hard-to-reach areas and successfully vaccinated 56,273 children under the age of five by the end of March. This was the first time they had ever received the preventative treatment.
This campaign saw a 100 percent increase compared to previous rounds, when only 48 percent of children in the province were vaccinated, resulting in the lowest coverage in Iraq.
Children in Anbar province are more at risk of contracting polio because of a deteriorating security situation, which has brought vaccination campaigns to a standstill. Anbar province borders Deir-ez-Zor, where cases of polio surfaced last October.
Iraq has been polio free for the last 14 years. But the large-scale unrest and heightened insecurity in the entire region has led to the reintroduction of the disease, putting children at additional risk of contracting polio.
“When you have large population movements and a breakdown of society, it’s a challenge to carry out immunization campaigns. That sets the stage for a re-introduction of the virus. That was the case in Syria and now it’s the case in Iraq,” says Dr. Marzio Babille, UNICEF Country Representative for Iraq.
On March 30, the Ministry of Health officially announced the new polio case in Iraq. UNICEF and its partners have declared the immunization of all children under five as a top priority. Over the past two months, UNICEF has also distributed humanitarian lifesaving supplies to more than 180,000 women and children displaced by the violence in the Anbar region.