The World Health Organization announced earlier this week that a nationwide campaign to vaccinate 5.8 million children in Iraq against polio was concluded on 11 October after a 2-day extension recommended by the Ministry of Health to achieve maximum vaccination coverage.

Image/Chris Zahniser, B.S.N., R.N., M.P.H.

Led by the Federal Ministry of Health, in coordination with WHO and UNICEF, the 7-day polio vaccination campaign begun on 4 October included nearly 13 000 vaccination teams deployed throughout Iraq. Each team traveled door to door, visiting individual households to vaccinate children against polio. The current campaign is the eleventh such national effort in Iraq since October 2013, when polio was first detected in neighboring Syria, and the fourth this year alone.

“WHO is supporting the campaign through a provision of technical expertise at national, regional, and subnational levels in high-risk areas,” said Altaf Musani, acting WHO Representative in Iraq. “Our support also includes financial assistance for polio campaign workers and finger-marking, as well as conducting surveillance activities, which is the only scientific tool to prove that polio has been contained in Iraq,” he added.

Based on preliminary field reports from the campaign, immunization activities are being implemented smoothly. However, security constraints in parts of Ninewa, Al Shergat district in Sala El Din, and parts of Kirkuk are compromising access to all children in these areas.

“UNICEF and partners have taken an innovative approach to the double threat of disease facing children and families in Iraq,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Representative in Iraq. “In the context of mass displacement and continuing violence, the humanitarian community has succeeded in administering 36 million doses of oral polio vaccine, doubling the country’s cold chain capacity. Converging existing activities can help the very limited resources make a greater impact, and ultimately save more lives.”

In May 2015, Iraq was removed from the list of infected countries, a landmark achievement made through the continued support of WHO and UNICEF to the Federal and Kurdistan region Ministries of Health. Although Iraq has not reported a polio case since April 2014, it remains on the list of countries vulnerable to importation due to difficult access for about 20% of its population.

In other polio news, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) reported new wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Afghanistan, a single case was reported in the past week in Batikot district of Nangarhar with onset of paralysis on 4 September. This is the first case in this district in 2015. The most recent case had onset of paralysis on 6 September in Sherzad district of Nangarhar province. The total number of WPV1 cases for 2015 is now 13.

In Pakistan, two new wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) cases were confirmed in the past week, one in Chakwal district of Punjab and one in Karachi-Gulberg, Sindh. The most recent case had onset of paralysis on 16 September in Peshawar. The total number of WPV1 cases for 2015 is now 38, compared to 205 at this time last year.

Also in Pakistan, thirty five million children were reached with polio vaccines during the September campaigns in Pakistan. Nearly 3 million children who were previously missed were vaccinated during the catch up days following this campaign.

Globally, year-to-date, 51 WPV1 cases have been reported, all in the two endemic countries and 14 Circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus cases were seen, primarily in non-endemic countries.