Internally displaced children in Iraq are at high risk of Polio and Measles outbreak

A child receives an oral polio virus vaccine in Iraq during the mass polio vaccination campaign in September 2014 A child receives an oral polio virus vaccine in Iraq during the mass polio vaccination campaign in September 2014 Photo: WHO/A Rahman

03 November 2014 | ERBIL - As the humanitarian situation in Iraq deteriorates, the health needs of the 1.8 million internally displaced persons in the country are rising, particularly in the Kurdistan Region and Anbar. Mass population movement within the country and from the neighboring Syria poses a risk of potential disease outbreaks such as polio and measles among the displaced people.


“Although, we achieved high coverage in the mass vaccination campaigns conducted in September 2014, there is a need for sustained efforts in vaccinating all children 0-5 years and 6 months – 5 years against polio and measles respectively to halt transmission of these disease in the country,” said Dr Jaffar Hussain, WHO Representative in Iraq.  With the large numbers of people entering Iraq from the neighboring countries, coupled with overcrowding in the camps, this will create conditions ripe for disease outbreaks,” he added. 

To prevent further outbreaks of polio and measles, WHO and UNICEF have supported the Federal Government of Iraq to convene a review meeting for the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) attended by national and province managers, national immunization advisory committee members, representatives from the central vaccine supply store, and health promotion officers. The meeting was convened to discuss ways of improving knowledge and technical skills of EPI managers to swiftly stop the current measles and polio outbreaks and effectively improve Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) surveillance as well as improve the quality and reach of Routine Immunization.

During the meeting, members agreed to strengthen routine immunization in all Primary Health Care Centers; and to conduct training for the vaccination teams before implementing vaccination campaigns to ensure coverage of all targeted groups. It was further agreed that the vaccination teams need to support with registration of unvaccinated children. There is also a need to strengthen support supervision to ensure good reach and coverage.

In February and April 2014, polio cases were reported in Baghdad and a total of 1040 cases of measles were reported in the first nine months of the year from 18 DoHs. With wild polio virus circulating in the country and the reported cases of measles, the health of many children in displaced camps in the country are at risk. In addition, lack of access and a shortage of health care workers in inaccessible areas makes the provision of quality primary health care services challenging. 

There is now a significant gap in providing vaccines for children in areas with no access. To ensure this gap is filled, WHO is working closely with health authorities, the community and other health partners including UNICEF to conduct social mobilization campaigns, pay incentives for vaccinators and transport of vaccines to hard to reach areas to ensure all children receive the much needed doses. 

Experts anticipate that additional capacities will be required to support delivery of emergency health care for internally displaced persons in hard to reach and inaccessible areas. The influx of Syrian refugees to Iraq equally exposes them to the risk of contracting vaccine preventable diseases, hence a need for more strengthened health interventions. 

There is need for more financial resources to ensure that all vulnerable children in Iraq in both accessible and inaccessible areas live safe and healthy lives. Of the 187 Million funds that WHO requires to respond to the health needs of more than 5 million people (1.8 million IDPs and 3.5 million host communities), the organization has so far raised only 52 million (35%). 


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  • Agency: WHO

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