Day 1,107: Will this be the greatest tragedy of the Syria conflict?


A Syrian child gets a polio vaccination at a clinic in Damascus on November 20, 2013.



Today is Day 1,107 of the Syria conflict.

"The current polio outbreak in Syria — now with one confirmed case in Iraq — is arguably the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication." That quote is from UN relief agency UNRWA, reported in The Guardian this morning.

To understand the tragedy and the horror of this outbreak, it's helpful to know the backstory: Before the outbreak was confirmed in October, Syria hadn't seen a polio case since 1999. In the original batch of cases confirmed by the UN, most of the victims were babies and toddlers. The case in Iraq that has prompted the fresh concern is that of an unvaccinated six-month-old in Baghdad. Iraq had previously been free of polio since 2000.

Polio is 100 percent preventable, with vaccination. But once it has set in, it can cause paralysis, deformity, and occasionally death.

And again, as the early cases make clear, the individuals likely to be getting the disease are disproportionately children who haven't yet been vaccinated. 

As The Guardian points out, since the Syrian outbreak WHO, Unicef, and UNRWA have banded together to vaccinate more than 22 million children in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine — "the largest vaccination campaign in the history of the Middle East." The largest campaign ever may not be enough. The conflict is preventing the organizations from reaching all of the at-risk populations. And at least one vocal critic, American pediatrician Annie Sparrow, says the WHO just didn't act fast enough.

In other news, the UN's Human Rights Council is "renew[ing]" its war crimes investigation.

If you're interested, there are some good longer reads on the Syrian conflict in Time and the Los Angeles Times today. Time's Hania Mourtada in Beirut takes a look at rebel attempts to appear sensitive to religious minorities in the Armenian town of Kasab, which they took earlier this week. Patrick J. McDonnell, reporting bravely from Homs for the LA Times, says that the rebels are losing their fight with Assad.