GENEVA/LONDON - More than 20 million children are to be vaccinated in Syria and neighboring countries against polio to try to stop the spread of the crippling infectious disease following its re-emergence there after 14 years, United Nations agencies said on Friday.
The mass vaccination against polio, which can spread rapidly among children, is already under way in the Middle East a week after the region declared a polio emergency, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN children fund UNICEF said.
Aiming to repeatedly vaccinate about 20 million children in seven countries and territories, it will be the largest-ever consolidated immunization response in the Middle East.
"The polio outbreak in Syria is not just a tragedy for children, it is an urgent alarm - and a crucial opportunity to reach all under-immunized children wherever they are," Peter Crowley, UNICEF's Chief of Polio, said in a statement.
He said the recent outbreak in Syria, confirmed by the WHO last week, should "serve as a stark reminder to countries and communities that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere."