Foreign jihadists 'responsible' for polio outbreak in Syria


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The Independent Online

A Syrian government minister has claimed that foreign fighters waging a jihadist war are responsible for an outbreak of polio in the country.

Ten cases have been confirmed by the United Nations in the first substantiated outbreak of the disease in Syria in 14 years.

Babies and toddlers under two years old have contracted the disease. 

Kindah al-Shammat, the Social Affairs Minister, told the Associated Press news agency that jihadis from Pakistan were to blame. 

She said: "The virus originates in Pakistan and has been brought to Syria by the jihadists who come from Pakistan.”

She offered no evidence and did not elaborate on the claim. Pakistan is one of three countries where polio remains endemic.

The polio virus, a highly contagious disease, usually infects children in unsanitary conditions through the consumption of food or liquid contaminated with faeces. It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyse, and can spread widely and unnoticed before it starts crippling children. The disease was last reported in Syria in 1999.

Syrian government officials have blamed terrorists and Islamic militants for the civil war that has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists.

The UN said in July that 100,000 Syrians had been killed in the conflict, but has not updated that figure since.

The fighting has triggered a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, driving nearly seven million people from their homes.

Nearly all Syrian children were vaccinated against polio before the conflict began more than two-and-a-half years ago.