Polio is just one among many health emergencies in Syria

November 5, 2013

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Polio is just one among many health emergencies in Syria © Panagis Chrysovergis

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has not directly seen any cases of polio in Syria, but had recently been hearing reports of suspected cases of polio from doctors in areas where MSF is supporting medical networks. The announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that ten cases have tested positive for polio raises concerns, as this highly infectious disease had not been seen in Syria for several years. "But this is not the only infectious disease that is reappearing," says Laurent Sury, MSF emergency response coordinator. "We have seen a sharp increase in measles cases in the north-west of Syria where MSF teams are present. Earlier this year MSF vaccinated more than 75,000 children in an effort to stem the spread of an outbreak, and we continue providing routine vaccination programmes for the areas we can reach."

Outbreaks of infectious disease are typical of a collapsed healthcare system, highlighting yet again how the Syrian war has destroyed a previously well functioning healthcare system, with millions of people now cut off from medical care. "Beyond infectious diseases, there are other massive and urgent health emergencies," continues Sury. "Displaced people's lives are balanced on a knife-edge, as are those living in areas of intense fighting and enclaves. Winter is starting and lots of people have nothing but a plastic sheet to call home. These people need tents, blankets, the basic necessities for living. One immediate effect we see is people with burns - their makeshift stoves that use home-made fuel too often explode with terrible consequences."

MSF is running six hospitals, two health centres and several mobile clinic programmes inside Syria.

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