Syria's Raging Health Crisis


BEIRUT, Lebanon — The public health disaster in Syria has been a long time coming. In three years of violent conflict, 125,000 have been killed and millions displaced. The recent outbreak of polio has focused the world’s attention, and the international response is welcome. Yet this crisis was both predictable and preventable.

The collapse of the health system and a lack of basic sanitation in opposition-held areas have created prime conditions for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Syria eradicated polio 14 years ago; the fact that it has returned represents more than a breakdown of health care during civil war. It is symptomatic of how the international community, in its response to the crisis, has neglected public health.

Immunization coverage in what are now mainly opposition areas was already below accepted standards in 2011, but the situation has deteriorated. Data on routine immunization from the World Health Organization reveal that over the past two years a large proportion of the Syrian population has gone without vaccination.

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