A major new campaign is bringing vaccinations against measles/mumps/rubella, polio and other preventable disease to children throughout the Syrian Arab Republic, through school.
DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 29 October 2013 – “Nurses will visit the school and give you vaccines that will protect you from disease and sickness,” announces Rihab to her Grade 6 students at the end of the school day. It is a scene repeated in thousands of classrooms across the Syrian Arab Republic in advance of a vaccination campaign.
One of the students, 11-year-old Aya, shares the news with her mother when she gets home. Aya’s mother encourages her and tells her that she didn’t even cry when she received an injection as a baby.
Back at school, Aya proudly recounts the story and uncovers her arm, ready to be vaccinated. “I am not afraid of the injection,” she says. “Mother and Miss Rihab say it is good for me.”
Children have missed vaccinations
“The ongoing conflict in Syria has affected more than three million children, with around two million children displaced, many living in cramped and unsanitary conditions where disease can easily spread,” says Representative at UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic Youssouf Abdel-Jelil.
“The health system has been significantly affected, including the operation of the routine immunization programme, meaning that some children have not received their vaccinations.”
In fact, according to official figures from July 2013, 60 per cent of public hospitals and 34 per cent of health centres have been damaged. Children, therefore, may miss vaccines because they lack access to health centres, or because they live in hot areas without facilities to keep vaccines cool.
Protecting children from killer diseases
Up to 2.4 million children across the country will be protected from killer diseases during a two-part vaccination campaign at schools and at health centres, through a series of child health days.
The first part of the vaccination campaign kicked off on 20 October in schools, where 800,000 children in Grades 5–9 (10–14 years of age) were to be given the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine.
A further 1.6 million children, aged under 5, are being vaccinated during a catch-up vaccination campaign, which started 24 October and will run for two weeks. MMR will be given to children who missed it during the first round, and polio vaccine will be given to all children regardless of their previous doses, in addition to routine vaccinations for the drop-outs. Children under 5 will also receive a vitamin A supplement.
Head of the National Immunization Programme Nidal Abu Rasheed says that the school campaign comes as a reaction to an increasing number of measles cases and a decrease in the percentage of routine immunization for 2012–2013. “The coverage rate is 60 per cent, according to ministry records,” she says.
Partners in vaccinations
UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health–led campaign through the provision of cold-chain equipment, syringes, safety boxes, vaccination cards and communication materials. In addition, 265,000 doses of MMR vaccine have arrived in Beirut, Lebanon, by cargo plane to replenish Ministry supplies used in the campaign. WHO is also supporting the campaign.
Sawsan Al Hamwi, who has worked in immunization for almost two decades, is one of the health workers charged with vaccinating children. She is proud of her work, which she considers important for the future of the country.
Kuwait has generously supported the purchase of essential life-saving vaccines for the Syrian Arab Republic and the provision of cold-chain equipment, including cold rooms.
During the child health days, UNICEF is also working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to reach high-risk children across lines with life-saving vaccinations; continued fighting and an ever-changing security situation create unique challenges to reach all children across the country.
UNICEF continues to advocate at the national level for humanitarian access to all children in need in the Syrian Arab Republic, no matter their location.
Story by Razan Rashidi