The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, in coordination with the Federal Ministry of Health and Ministry of Health of Kurdistan Region, today launched the country’s second and last national polio campaign for 2017.

Poliovirus  Image/CDC
Poliovirus Image/CDC

The 5-day vaccination drive aims to reach 5.6 million children under the age of 5 and comes at significant time – one month before Iraq celebrates 3 successive years without a case of polio.

“Iraq has been polio-free for almost 3 years thanks to strong efforts made under the leadership of the Ministry of Health Iraq, Ministry of Health KRG and Departments of Health. There has been a significant improvement in overall population immunity [against polio] and this campaign will help to sustain these gains. It is important that every child under five, regardless of previous vaccination status, receives two drops of polio vaccine during the campaign to further strengthen the immunity”, said Altaf Musani, WHO Representative in Iraq. “Efforts are being made to achieve high-quality vaccination at both district and subdistrict levels, with a focus on marginalized communities”, added Musani.

“Thanks to the tireless work of those on the ground and the leadership of the Iraqi Ministries of Health, these vaccination campaigns have saved millions of children from life-long paralysis or death,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative to Iraq.

However, insecurity, fragile health systems, and population movement continue to put the country at high risk of polio importation. Together with health authorities, WHO and UNICEF are working to enhance routine immunization services across the country and conduct emergency vaccination for newly accessible populations in insecure areas.

More than 25,000 trained vaccinators will travel from house to house during the campaign to administer the free-of-charge oral polio vaccine to children. Iraq and KRG ministries of health and departments of health with WHO and UNICEF technical and logistic support will supervise campaign activities, and visit camps, settlements and slums to promote vaccination among high-risk communities.

Through 17 mass polio campaigns conducted since 2013, more than 5.6 million of Iraq’s children have been vaccinated against polio, multiple times.