Nightly News   |  November 05, 2013

The race to vaccinate Syrian refugees

International healthcare workers are providing thousands of vaccinations to prevent polio from spreading any further among Syrians, many of whom are living in squalid refugee camps.  And polio isn’t the only threat -- poor sanitation in the camps provides ripe conditions for the spread of other diseases. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> as we reported here last week, in syria tonight there is a race against time to save the children who have suffered through war from a crippling disease that the whole world thought was gone. there are now ten confirmed cases of polio inside syria . and as refugees flee into neighboring countries there is real concern now that polio could cross the border with them. our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman saw this crisis unfold firsthand at refugee camps .

>> reporter: mona is doing everything she can to keep her family alive and healthy under the most terrible circumstances. with four children and a fifth on the way, her family escaped the conflict in syria and now lives in a squalid makeshift settlement in lebanon. like everybody in the camp, they barely have necessaries, and dirty water and scarce food are constant threats. it must be hard to worry about food and shelter and getting all the right medicines. very difficult, she says, the place is not clean, as you can see. not for the children or their health. it is too much for mona sometimes. fearing for her children, she brings them to this clinic on the lebanese/syrian border. making sure the shots are up to date. her mission, to get them vaccinated against polio. the latest from a deadly war that has left the public health system in shambles, with millions displaced, the vaccination rates have gone down in a country that has not seen a single case of polio since 1939 . and there are worries that the disease will spread beyond syria , carried by refugees, many have fled to jordan, where day and night , the military personnel meet the families, vaccinations traveling across the border, almost 19,000 last week. it is a race to keep the most vulnerable from being damaged, the younger victimins. it can transmit easily.

>> of course it doesn't recognize borders and any types of barriers that you might expect to prevent transmission of one thing or another.

>> reporter: health officials on the ground warn that for every child with symptoms, there may be 200 hours now carrying the virus. and with half a million syrian children in syria , unvaccinated, the threat continues.