Despite security concerns which forced a one-week delay, a nationwide United Nations-backed polio immunization drive in Iraq is now underway to protect 4.8 million against the highly infectious and incurable disease that can cause lifelong paralysis and is sometimes fatal. For the rest of the week, over 5,400 mobile vaccinators will travel house-to-house across the war-torn country to immunize every child under five against polio in a bid to maintain Iraq’s polio-free status. Iraq’s last polio case was reported in 2000. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing oral polio vaccines for the campaign, launched by the Iraqi Health Ministry yesterday, as well as transport and communication support to help vaccinators reach children even in the most remote and insecure areas.The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has also provided vital assistance to the Government for planning, training local health staff and providing incentives for vaccinators. This is Iraq’s second polio campaign this year. The first was held in April/May and immunized over 96 per cent of the target population. The second round of the current campaign will take place in December. Although polio has been driven from Iraq, a recent global resurgence of the virus has brought a renewed threat to the region. Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have all been re-infected since 2004, making this week’s campaign critical to safeguard Iraq’s children.

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