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Polio outbreak confirmed in Syria

War-torn Syria has been hit by its first polio outbreak in 14 years with the UN's health agency confirming 10 cases in the country's north east.

A World Health Organisation spokesman said: "The risk is high of spread across the region" and that they are investigating another 12 cases showing symptoms.

The Syrian conflict, which began as a largely peaceful uprising against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, has triggered a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, killing more than 100,000 people, driving nearly seven million more from their homes and devastating cities and towns.

The UN has warned that diseases are spreading because of lack of access to basic hygiene and vaccinations.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake urged warring sides in the country to grant health workers access to over 500,000 children who are in immediate need of vaccination.

He said that the polio outbreak "now is not only a desperate issue for Syria, but it becomes part of the global issue as well."

And Save the Children said "vaccination ceasefires" were needed to prevent the outbreak turning into an epidemic which threatens children across the entire Middle East.

The ceasefires would mean pauses in fighting to allow vaccination campaigns to take place across both sides of the conflict. These ceasefires, also known as days of tranquillity, have previously been carried out successfully in Afghanistan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it said.

Chief executive Justin Forsyth said: 'The fact that an outbreak of polio has now been confirmed in Syria is another sign of the desperate and spiralling humanitarian situation there.

"The UN Security Council recently agreed on access for humanitarian relief across Syria. This polio crisis is a clear test of whether all sides of the conflict will respect the Security Council's presidential statement and allow unhindered humanitarian aid."

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