'Vaccination Ceasefires' Needed in Syria to Prevent Confirmed Polio Outbreak Turning Into an Epidemic, Save the Children Warns

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Francine Uenuma 202.450.9153

WESTPORT, Conn. (Oct. 29, 2013) — 'Vaccination ceasefires' are needed in Syria to prevent the current polio outbreak turning into an epidemic which threatens children across the Middle East region, Save the Children warned today.

The call from the aid agency came as the World Health Organization and the Syrian government confirmed an outbreak of polio in the eastern province of Syria, the first time the highly contagious disease has been seen in the country for 14 years.

Half a million children under the age of 5 in Syria are at risk of contracting the disease, which is incurable and can result in lifelong paralysis as well as death.

The movement of Syrians to take refuge in neighboring countries means that there is a high risk the virus could spread across the region.

'Vaccination ceasefires' would mean pauses in fighting to allow vaccination campaigns to take place across both sides of the conflict. These ceasefires, also known as days of tranquility, have previously been carried out successfully in Afghanistan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The World Health Organization is currently drawing up plans to carry out vaccination campaigns, but Save the Children is concerned that these may not reach all areas of Syria. The international children's charity says it is key that the WHO-coordinated response covers the entirety of Syria, including where necessary, across borders from neighboring countries.

Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles said: "Polio doesn't respect conflict lines or borders, so we need these ceasefires to reach all children with vaccines, no matter where they live. If chemical weapons inspectors can be allowed access across Syria with notebooks, surely aid workers can be allowed in with vaccines.

"The fact that an outbreak of polio has now been confirmed in Syria is another sign of the desperate and spiraling humanitarian situation there. The UN Security Council recently agreed on access for humanitarian relief across Syria. This polio crisis is a clear test of whether all sides of the conflict will respect the Security Council's presidential statement and allow unhindered humanitarian aid."

Save the Children has vaccinated 21,000 children against polio in Syria but wants to reach many more. They are also delivering life-saving aid to thousands across Syria and are helping hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war in countries throughout the region.

To learn more about Save the Children's aid efforts surrounding Syrian refugees, or to donate, visit SavetheChildren.org/syria.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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