The World Health Organization has hesitated for weeks over a polio immunisation campaign in Syria’s contested Deir ez-Zor province and even blocked the analysis of virus samples, according to Der Spiegel.

Europe’s largest newsmagazine says that experts from the US Centers for Disease Control have been working with rebels since summer on an early warning system for infectious diseases. In late September, the system picked up possible cases of polio. Samples were smuggled out to Turkey for testing but the WHO tried to block analysis because the samples had been collected in the WHO’s Middle East division but taken to Turkey, a country in the WHO’s Europe division. More samples were collected and sent to Damascus where Syrian government officials denied they contained polio virus for over two weeks. Polio was finally acknowledged by Damascus in late October as more cases emerged and the epidemic became undeniable.

Now, says the Spiegel, the WHO will not release oral polio vaccine into rebel-controlled areas because to do so would by-pass the Damascus government. The vaccines cannot, the WHO says, be shipped across the Turkish border. Since the Syrian Government does not allow food or medicines into the ravaged areas, the magazine thinks there is little hope of arranging transport for oral vaccines which need to be stored at minus 20 degrees Centigrade.

The Spiegel is known for the strength and reliability of its Middle East reporting

Mideast Syria UN Polio