Middle East

Polio vaccination kicks off in Yarmouk refugee camp

Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus February 4, 2014, in this handout released by Syria's national news agency SANA. (REUTERS/SANA)

BEIRUT: Polio vaccination has begun in the besieged Yarmouk camp, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said Wednesday.

Yarmouk, a once bustling residential and commercial district south of Damascus, home to both Syrians and Palestinians, had been largely sealed off by a tight army siege for months before a deal that allowed a trickle of food and medical aid in beginning last month.

The neighborhood’s grim death toll from hunger and lack of medical care topped 100, activists said, but UNRWA has now begun moving both food parcels and medicine into Yarmouk.

“We are pleased to announce that UNRWA has secured the formal authorization for the transfer of 10,000 polio vaccines to Yarmouk,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said.

“This process has been completed without incident and the vaccination of thousands of children in the camp is now underway,” Gunness said.

Gunness said food distributions that began on Jan. 18, haltingly at first before picking up speed in recent days, continued Wednesday.

He said 5,194 food parcels had been distributed to the camp since UNRWA gained access.

Some 1,500 people have left the camp under the deal with the authorities, according to a Palestinian official, although they require approval to do so.

Activists in the camp who said the death toll from starvation and a lack of medicine had now topped 100 people despite the entry of food aid noted that the dehydration cases alone required specialized medical care that the camp lacked.

Once home to some 150,000 Palestinians, as well as Syrians, Yarmouk has been devastated by the fighting, and now just 18,000 civilians are thought to remain inside.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 06, 2014, on page 8.




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