Thursday, June 26, 2014

Brave Volunteers Combat Polio Spread in Syria

From the Washington Post:
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Despite grave danger, a campaign to combat the spread of polio in rebel-held Syria has been surprisingly successful, with volunteers inoculating about 1.4 million children since the beginning of the year.
The reemergence of polio in Syria in October alarmed health organizations, which feared that factors such as tainted water, dysfunctional sanitation systems and a mobile population could contribute to a broader, region-wide epidemic.

In response, a coalition of nonprofit organizations quickly recruited and deployed thousands of volunteers in the country’s embattled north, where they won the cooperation of rebel fighters and braved shelling and airstrikes to administer the vaccine to children under age 5. Four volunteers have been killed in the process, but there has not been a confirmed case of polio in Syria in nearly five months...

...(There was) limited access to northern Syria. So last fall, a group of small, Syria-oriented organizations formed the ad-hoc Polio Control Task Force.
Headquartered in southern Turkey, the coalition includes SAMS, the opposition-linked Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) and about half a dozen other groups. It is supported by a patchwork of local organizations, international aid groups and foreign governments.

Task force officials said they started by recruiting and training low-paid volunteers, many drawn from a network of opposition doctors and activists that had been built over more than three years of uprising and war in Syria. The group rapidly grew to more than 8,000 strong, almost all based inside Syria or traveling there regularly.

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