The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that fifteen new cases of polio have been confirmed in Syria, including a child who may have caught the disease in Raqqa.
Aid workers are unable to vaccinate the population in and around Raqqa, a city held by ISIS militants and a target of US-led airstrikes.
The WHO reported two polio cases in an area of Syria partly held by ISIS earlier this month, the first re-emergence of the virus in Syria since 2014 and a blow for hopes of eradicating the disease globally.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a UN briefing on Tuesday that 14 more cases had been found in the same area, the Mayadin district of Deir al-Zor province, and another had come from Raqqa, a city where ISIS militants are trying to resist a US-backed assault.
Tensions escalated on Sunday as the US military brought down a jet near Raqqa for bombing near US-allied forces on the ground, and Iran launched missiles at ISIS targets in eastern Syria – the first time each state has carried out such actions in the multi-sided Syrian war.
“We are very worried, because obviously if there is already one case of polio of a kid that is paralyzed it’s already an outbreak. We know for example that for one kid that is paralyzed there are almost 200 asymptomatic so it means that virus circulating, so it is very serious,” Jasarevic said.
He said the WHO was doing a health assessment to ascertain whether the virus was circulating in Raqqa or if the polio sufferer had simply travelled there and caught the virus elsewhere.
The 17 children who have been paralyzed so far first reported symptoms between March 3 and May 23, and confirming the presence of the virus takes 6-8 weeks, meaning the outbreak could grow before its extent is known.
WHO plans to vaccinate 320,000 children under the age of five in Deir al-Zor and 90,000 in Mayadin, Jasarevic said.
UN to Send Polio Vaccine to ISIS-held Areas in Syria
A United Nations’ humanitarian aid adviser for Syria said on Thursday that trucks are being prepared to deliver anti-polio vaccine to areas held by militants of the Islamic State group (ISIS) in eastern Syria.
The shipment is to be delivered to Syria’s eastern province of Deir ez-Zor, which is largely under ISIS control.
UN aid advisor Jan Egeland said the decision was taken to send the vaccine after confirmation of a “very dangerous” outbreak of the polio virus.
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced two cases in Deir ez-Zor of a polio strain derived from vaccines that mutated under weakening health and immunization conditions.
According to Egeland, 58 acute flaccid paralysis cases, a possible symptom of polio, had been reported in Deir ez-Zor this year through June 6.
“It’s one of the remarkable things of Syria’s war that people have been reached with vaccines, even in the Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa governorates held by ISIS,” he said.