Syria: UN officials press for humanitarian access, peace conference

A girl receives a dose of oral polio vaccine at a health centre in Damascus, Syria. Photo: UNICEF/Halabi

21 October 2013 – As United Nations officials remain hard at work on several fronts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria and ensure humanitarian assistance reaches those in desperate need, the world body’s health agency has said it received reports of a polio outbreak in the war-torn country.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said it received reports on 17 October of a cluster of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) cases, used to describe a sudden onset of the disease. Syria is already considered at high-risk for this and other vaccine-preventable diseases, but it has not experienced a case of polio since 1999.

According to WHO, the Syrian Ministry of Health confirms it is treating the outbreak as a cluster of “hot” AFP cases, pending final laboratory confirmation.

Initial results from a national polio laboratory in Damascus indicate that two of the cases, detected earlier this month in Deir Al Zour province, could be positive but final results are being awaited from the regional reference laboratory of the Eastern Mediterranean Region of WHO.

The Ministry said a surveillance alert issued for the region to actively search for additional potential cases. An urgent response is currently being planned across the country.

Meanwhile, in comments to CNN, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos reiterated her call for a ceasefire in Moadamiyeh in Rural Damascus to allow aid agencies access to evacuate thousands of civilians trapped by the ongoing conflict in Syria. “The fighting is extremely brutal,” she said, stressing that relief agencies have long urged ceasefires to ensure that civilians trapped by the fighting can get the assistance they desperately need.

Further, the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States is currently en route to Kuwait where he will meet tomorrow with Government officials to discuss how leaders in the Middle East can contribute to making the so-called “Geneva II” conference a success.

Lakhdar Brahimi met today with officials in Iraq, following weekend visits with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil al-Arabi, in Cairo.

The goal of a second Geneva conference would to be to achieve a political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the Syrian Government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué, adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on 30 June 2012.


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