Syria rebel-held areas receive first cholera vaccines

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The first batch of cholera vaccines has reached rebel-held areas in the northwest of war-ravaged Syria, where the extremely virulent disease is spreading.

Syria's first outbreak since 2009, which the United Nations and local officials say has killed dozens of people since August, has been attributed in part to dilapidated infrastructure after more than a decade of conflict.

Two trucks loaded with vaccines entered Syria's Idlib province through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, linking Turkey with areas under rebel and jihadist control, an AFP correspondent said.

They carried 1.7 million doses of vaccine, said Ammar Ammar, a regional official with the UN children's agency UNICEF, which organised the delivery.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization "have been looking at buying vaccines for the whole of Syria", he told AFP.

Idlib's provincial health chief Rifaat al-Farhat told AFP these were the first vaccine doses shipped there since the outbreak began last year.

An inoculation drive would begin in March, Farhat said, but warned there are not enough doses for all of the province's roughly three million inhabitants.

About 1.1 million others live in areas north of Idlib that are also not under the control of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

In November, two million vaccine doses were delivered to government-held areas.

According to the UN, Syria's outbreak has killed 100 people since late August, and 77,561 suspected cases have been registered throughout the country by January 7.

Cholera is generally contracted from contaminated food or water, and causes diarrhoea and vomiting.

It can spread in residential areas lacking proper sewerage and drinking water systems.

The war in Syria since 2011 has damaged nearly two-thirds of water treatment plants, half of pumping stations and one-third of water towers, according to the UN.

Authorities in Idlib said they have registered 38,000 suspected cases, 6,000 of them in January alone.

Twenty people have died of cholera in the rebel-held province, officials said.

The Syrian government has reported 1,634 cases and 49 deaths in areas under its control.