A mass polio immunization campaign that was carried out this week in the midst of ongoing violence in Iraq has concluded successfully in all 18 Governorates throughout the country. The campaign was the first national polio vaccination activity since May.

The five-day campaign was conducted between 14 and 18 September and was organized by the Iraqi Ministry of Health with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.  It was part of the ongoing national response to the re-emergence of the polio virus in Iraq earlier this year and comes at a time when the number of children displaced by ongoing conflicts continues to increase. 

“It is an absolute imperative that no child be denied protection against preventable diseases such as Polio,” said Dr. Marzio Babille, UNICEF Iraq Representative. “In coordination with partners, we will continue to support national and regional officials in their tireless efforts to immunize all children in Iraq, despite the continuing violence heavily impacting children’s lives.”

The campaign was made particularly challenging by the internal displacement of nearly 1.8 million people since the beginning of the year, nearly half of whom are children. Health authorities were able to use pre-positioned stocks of vaccines and other supplies to ensure a high number of children were reached. 

“Children have suffered enough during this crisis. They have been uprooted from their homes and subjected to extremely stressful and traumatizing experiences, especially those who have witnessed the conflict first-hand or have been displaced more than once with their families. At the very least, we can ensure that they are protected against preventable diseases such as polio, and that not even one child is at risk of being further impacted by this crisis ,” said Dr. Syed Jaffar Hussain, WHO Iraq Representative. 

The confirmation of two cases of polio in Iraq in February and April this year ended a 14-year period during which the country remained polio-free. With a relatively high number of unvaccinated children due to difficulties in accessing families and children, especially in slums and conflict zones, experts say Iraq has now become vulnerable to a wider outbreak of the crippling and incurable disease. 

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