Iraq and UN agencies Tuesday launched a massive polio immunization campaign aiming to protect over four million children under the age of five from the crippling disease, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said.
The four-day campaign, undertaken by Iraq's health ministry with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef is part of the national response to the re-emergence of the polio virus earlier this year.
WHO and Unicef are helping Iraqi health authorities reach children in 12 governorates, including the three governorates in the Kurdistan region, where approximately 250,000 Iraqi children and 125,000 Syrian children have taken refuge.
"This campaign comes at a critical time while the country is witnessing a huge internal exodus of children fleeing violence and turmoil," said Marzio Babille, Unicef Iraq representative, in a press release.
"This is a top priority for Unicef. No child should be missed. No child should be paralysed."
The on-going violence in Iraq has precipitated the internal displacement of nearly 1.2 million people since the beginning of the year. Almost 200,000 have been displaced in the last three days alone in the Kurdistan Region.
Unicef estimates half of that number are children.
"As the violence spreads, children are being displaced up to three times with their families, often living in overcrowded conditions where they are at a much higher risk of contracting infectious diseases," said Syed Jaffar Hussain, the WHO's Iraq representative.
With two cases of polio being detected in Iraq after the country became polio-free for 14 years and a relatively high number of unvaccinated children due to difficulties in accessing families and children, especially in conflict zones and due to social reservations, Iraq has now become vulnerable to a wider outbreak of the vaccine-preventable crippling disease, Unicef said.