Stopping Polio in the Middle East

Scientist working in a lab

In 2013, a case of acute flaccid paralysis was detected in Syria by the Early Warning Alert and Response Network, a joint surveillance system managed by the World Health Organization and CDC. Soon after, more patient specimens were tested in the laboratory and found positive for polio. In all, thirty-six cases of polio were identified in Syria, followed by 2 more cases in Iraq. CDC and global partners coordinated a multi-country response to prevent polio from crossing borders and infecting polio-free countries, stopping the outbreak within 6 months.

Before this outbreak, which lasted from 2013–2015, Syria had not had a case of polio for more than 10 years. Public health workers set up immunization sites at clinics, border crossings, and displaced person camps. Vaccinators were also sent house-to-house in some locations and mobile vaccination teams traveled to remote locations. Public health workers focused on containing the virus in the two affected countries, vaccinating children who may have missed their routine vaccinations, and strengthening routine immunization systems, including additional vaccination campaigns. By the end of the response in 2015, 27 million children in unsafe and difficult-to-access conflict areas had been vaccinated against polio.