A senior Syrian official vowed Monday that authorities would vaccinate the country’s children against polio after 10 cases emerged in the northeast, saying the government would work with international organizations to ensure even rebel-held areas were reached.
A week earlier, the United Nations health agency confirmed the first outbreak of the disease in the country in 14 years, raising a risk of it spreading throughout the region. The confirmed cases are among babies and toddlers who were “under-immunized,” according to the World Health Organization.
“We intend to vaccinate each Syrian child regardless of the area they are present in, whether it is a hotspot or a place where the Syrian Arab Army is present,” deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters in Damascus. “We promise that we will give opportunity to humanitarian organizations to reach every Syrian child.”
Mekdad did not say, however, when the vaccination campaign would begin or how exactly it would reach rebel-held areas.
The announcement came only a day after the Syrian Minister of Social Affairs, Kindah ِAl-Shammat, told the Associated Press that jihadis from Pakistan were to blame for the polio outbreak.
“The virus originates in Pakistan and has been brought to Syria by the jihadists who come from Pakistan,” the minister said. She offered no evidence and did not elaborate on the claim. Pakistan is one of three countries where polio remains endemic.
Aid groups have called for ceasefires to allow immunization campaigns. Syria’s warring parties have held truces before to allow civilians to flee and aid to enter some areas.
The polio virus usually infects children in unsanitary conditions through consuming food or drink contaminated with feces. It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze, spreading widely and unnoticed before it starts crippling children.