Vaccination ceasefire urged in Syria

Syria’s government and rebels were urged this week to respect “vaccination ceasefires” and allow access to hundreds of thousands of children threatened by an outbreak of polio, another sign of the cost of the country’s conflict.

The call came as prospects for peace talks receded yet again. The United Nations envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was said after talks in Damascus to be resigned to postponing the long-awaited Geneva II conference from next month to January.

Save the Children issued the ceasefire appeal after the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Damascus government confirmed an outbreak of the highly contagious disease in eastern Syria, the first for 14 years. Half a million children under the age of five are at risk of contracting polio, which is incurable and can result in death or lifelong paralysis.

The mass movement of Syrians fleeing to neighbouring countries means there is a high risk that the virus could spread.

The WHO confirmed 10 cases of polio and said 12 more were being investigated. Most of the 22 who have been tested are babies and toddlers. Before the war began in 2011, 95% of Syrian children were vaccinated against the disease. The UN now estimates that 500 000 children have not been immunised.


The news will galvanise international attempts to secure safe access for humanitarian relief workers, even if the prospects for talks between President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition remain poor.

Justin Forsyth, of Save the Children, said: “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.”

Progress on humanitarian relief was reported on Tuesday from the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya following the relaxation of a government blockade. Muadhamiya had been closed off since March and supplies were running desperately short. “We didn’t see a piece of bread for nine months,” a woman told the BBC. “We were eating leaves and grass.”

Arab diplomatic sources reported that Brahimi, after two days of talks in Damascus, was expected to inform the United States and Russia that the Geneva talks would have to be postponed. The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, has yet to decide whether to attend. Islamist fighting groups have insisted they will not, and warned that negotiating with Assad would be treachery.

In another indication that any talks will be fraught, the Syrian government announced the dismissal of Assad’s deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil. Jamil, often described as Moscow’s man in Damascus, suggested last month that the government would propose a ceasefire as a gesture of goodwill before the Geneva meeting, but then retracted his statement. – © Guardian News & Media 2013

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Ian Black
Guest Author

Related stories

Covid vaccines: Hope balanced with caution

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights

War and Covid slow trade in Saluki dogs

Salukis, cousins of the greyhound, have been used for hunting for thousands of years in the Middle East and are some of the fastest canines.

Trial opens over Charlie Hebdo terror attacks that stunned France

14 people accused of helping jihadist gunmen storm the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket went on trial on Wednesday, five years after three days of terror sent shock waves through France

Good news: Africa is declared free of wild polio

The global polio eradication initiative, involving governments, the World Health Organisation and other institutions, was launched in 1988. It took three decades of immunising children to eradicate the poliovirus on the continent

The blankest spot on Trump’s world map

In his new book of his time in the Trump White House, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton shares Trump’s very few thoughts on Africa

Zimbabwe: What is the current status of the Torture Docket case?

International crimes must be prosecuted and domestic jurisdictions are well placed to do this. Domestic prosecutions based on universal jurisdiction are on the rise
Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January

Andile Lungisa: Early parole for the house of truth

Disgraced Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa calls for a change of leadership in the ANC immediately after being released on parole

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…