United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reported an emergency vaccination campaign is under way in Syria to protect young children against measles and polio diseases that can spread rapidly and sometimes with fatal results in times of conflict and displacement.
The campaign targeting 1.4 million children in all has faced unusual challenges: With key roads blocked and fighting in many parts of the country, getting vital vaccine supplies to towns where they were needed has been both dangerous and difficult.
“The toughest job has been for the drivers who have had to collect supplies in Damascus and then deliver them, often by circuitous routes, to campaign workers across the country,” said Iman Bahnasi, Child Survival and Development specialist with UNICEF Syria. “But thanks to their determination and courage, all governorates have received the supplies they need.”
Data received from 11 of Syria’s 14 governorates show that since the campaign started on 26 November, more than 630,000 children aged under five have already received polio drops, while over 510,000 children aged 1 to 5 years have been vaccinated against measles.
Children over one year of age are also receiving a dose of Vitamin A, which contributes to reducing morbidity due to acute respiratory infections and diarrhea.
“We believe the actual numbers of children vaccinated to be significantly higher, but the security situation is making it difficult to get figures immediately for some areas,” said Yusuf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “What is clear is that the campaign is working. We are getting reports of long lines of parents with their young children at vaccination centers around the country, including cities such as Homs,”said Yusuf Abdel-Jelil.
While vaccinations are taking place at around 1,200 primary health care centers, the main focus of the campaign has been children from displaced families living in temporary shelters around the country, who are being reached by more than 100 mobile vaccination teams. A mixture of TV coverage, SMS messages and health education sessions has helped encourage parents to bring their children for vaccination.
UNICEF has provided the campaign with 1.5 million doses of measles vaccine, along with supplies of syringes, cold chain equipment, safety boxes, vaccination cards, registration sheets and communication materials. This support has continued despite the withdrawal of a number of UN international staff from Syria this week.
UNICEF is working alongside the World Health Organisation, the Ministry of Health and several non-governmental organizations, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, to maximize coverage until the planned end of the campaign on 10 December.