The vacuous anti-vaccine movement should take notice of what's going on in Syria. After less than three years of civil war, polio is on the rise — a stark reminder of what happens when societies collapse.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced the discovery of 10 children — all under the age of two — who have polio. Tests are currently being conducted on a dozen more who likely have it. The UN is now warning that half a million Syrian children need to be urgently vaccinated against this terrible blight — a highly infectious disease that's all been eradicated in areas where vaccinations are commonplace.
But in war-torn Syria, where the once-vaunted public health system has collapsed, vaccinations are now hard to come by. As a result, polio has re-appeared after a 12-year absence.
In light of this, health officials are now scrambling to deal with the situation. Late last month, UN officials said they were mobilizing to vaccinate 2.5 million young children in Syria and more than eight million others in the region to combat the pending outbreak. But they've since had to update the plan, saying now that they may require at least 50 million doses of vaccine for repeated treatments, a process that could take upwards of eight months to complete.
The UN has also chastised all combatants involved, saying they've totally ignored the Council's earlier directive that they must give humanitarian workers access to all areas in need.
Polio is transmitted through contaminated food and water. It takes root and breeds inside the intestine, from where it launches an attack on the nervous system. Many people have no symptoms, but excrete the virus in their feces, which is how it gets transmitted to others. First symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck, and pain in the limbs. In some cases, polio causes paralysis — which is often permanent. But as noted, it can be prevented by immunization.
Top image: A child receives polio vaccination drops during an anti-polio campaign on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in February. Via IB Times/Reuters.