NEW YORK (August 11, 2014) – Iraq has launched a polio immunization campaign aiming to protect more than four million children under the age of 5 throughout the country against the crippling disease.
The four day campaign, undertaken by the Ministry of Health with the support of WHO and UNICEF, is part of the national response to the re-emergence of the polio virus earlier this year.
“This campaign comes at a critical time while the country is witnessing a huge internal exodus of children fleeing violence and turmoil,” said Marzio Babille, UNICEF Iraq Representative. “This is a top priority for UNICEF. No child should be missed. No child should be paralyzed.”
The campaign aims to reach children all over the country including in conflict zones, displaced communities and host populations. The ongoing violence in the country has precipitated the internal displacement of nearly 1.2 million people since the beginning of the year. Almost 200,000 have been displaced only in the last three days alone in the Kurdistan Region. UNICEF estimates half of that number are children.
“As the violence spreads, children are being displaced up to three times with their families, often living in overcrowded conditions where they are at a much higher risk of contracting infectious diseases,” said Dr. Syed Jaffar Hussain, WHO Iraq Representative. “WHO is working with the national health authorities and partners to ensure that the health of all vulnerable populations, especially children, is protected against diseases like polio.”
After being polio free for 14 years, two cases of the preventable, crippling and incurable disease have emerged in Iraq and it has now become vulnerable to a wider outbreak. There is a relatively high number of unvaccinated children in the country due to difficulties in accessing families and children, especially in conflict zones, and due to social reservations. WHO and UNICEF are helping health authorities reach children in 12 governorates, including the three governorates in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where approximately 250,000 Iraqi children and 125,000 Syrian children have taken refuge.
“Iraq is one of seven countries included in a consolidated polio response plan by WHO and UNICEF that aims to reach 25 million children in the region with repeated doses of the vaccine. Everything possible must be done to reach all children and end polio forever,” said Chris Maher, WHO manager for polio eradication.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.
For additional information, please contact:
Andrea Sioris, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9136, [email protected]