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Attack on Syria vaccine storage facility may leave children at risk: WHO

Strike on medical facility may have destroyed more than 130,000 polio and measles vaccine doses
World Health Organization says it administered polio vaccine to 252,000 children in last campaign in Deir Ezzor (Reuters)
By Reuters

The World Health Organization said on Friday it had received reports of an attack on medical facilities in eastern Syria that had destroyed a storage room containing more than 130,000 vaccine doses against measles and polio.

If confirmed, the WHO said, the attack will put thousands of children at risk of these serious infectious, viral diseases. Both can spread rapidly in areas of conflict.

“WHO has made strenuous efforts in cooperation with health authorities to deliver vaccines to protect the children living in these areas from disease,” said Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic. “We unequivocally condemn these actions. Vaccines are not a legitimate target of war,” Hoff said in a statement issued late Friday.

The WHO said the reports it received were of an attack on a vaccine cold room at health facilities in al-Mayadin, near Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. The WHO did not say whether the reports gave any detail on who carried out the attack.

The store had held 100,000 doses of measles vaccine, 35,000 doses of polio vaccine, plus syringes and other equipment.

“Until a new cold room is built and the required cold chain equipment - including solar fridges, cold boxes and vaccine carriers - are delivered, this will delay the implementation of routine immunization for vulnerable children in the area,” Hoff added.

Polio - a viral disease that can cripple its victims - and measles - which can cause diarrhoea, blindness and can kill - tend to break out in war zones because low vaccine coverage leaves gaps in population immunity, exposing children to infections.

The WHO previously tackled a polio outbreak in the same area of Syria in 2013-2014. The UN health agency said that in its last polio vaccination campaign in Deir Ezzor it reached more than 252,000 babies and children.

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