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Measles case numbers alarming in Turkey amid enhanced polio fight

Bülent SarıoğluANKARA – Hürriyet

Health officials have vaccinated 1.1 million children against polio in a bid to prevent the spread of the contagious virus that broke out in Syria, but measles cases are soaring to alarming levels, according to figures provided by Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu.

“Despite not having had poliomyelitis cases in our country since 1998, and because of the cases observed in Syria, all children below the age of five in the seven Turkish cities bordering Syria, as well as all Syrian children below the age of five in all Turkish provinces [1.1 million children], have been vaccinated,” Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu said, responding to questions raised by Republican People’s Party (CHP) Gaziantep Deputy Mehmet Şeker in the Budget Committee.

An outbreak of the crippling virus in war-torn Syria has caused spillover worries because of the Syrian refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.

The United Nations has already launched the largest-ever polio vaccination campaign in the Middle East, aiming to immunize more than 20 million children across seven countries, including Turkey.

Müezzinoğlu also admitted that the numbers of measles cases, which had been reduced down to just four, had jumped to an annual average of 1,040.

“In 2001, the number of measles cases was 31,000. Due to the vaccination program carried out between 2003 and 2005, the numbers were reduced down to just four,” he said, also claiming that the current boom had been brought under control and lowered to fewer than 20 cases per week.

“No matter how you calculate the case numbers – which the dear minister struggled to say whether they are either per week, per year or per day – you can see the level to which the measles risk has risen,” Şeker said.