Polio vaccination campaigns in Syria continue despite challenges
More than 2 million children were immunized against polio last week
14 January 2014 – According to preliminary results more than 2 million children were immunized against polio across Syria last week during a third round of vaccination in response to a polio outbreak in the country.
The activities were carried out by local health and community authorities supported by UNICEF, WHO, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other partners, navigating the complex conflict landscape. Collaboration with humanitarian agencies and the local communities helped reach children in a number of contested areas that were not reached in the previous campaigns in October and December. With each campaign, more families are taking part in the vaccination activities, and more actors are cooperating and supporting the immunization effort across Syria.
“We are seeing high demand for immunization among the population. This reflects the increasing public awareness of the risks of polio, which until this past autumn had not been seen in Syria since 1999,” says Chris Maher, a WHO epidemiologist and senior adviser on polio eradication, “When families know that immunization is offered, they make a great effort to get their children vaccinated.”
The increasing momentum of the response is a result of improving information flow, on-going training of health workers and volunteers, better planning and the engagement of more stakeholders. However, heavy fighting in some areas disrupted operations; it is estimated that at least 100,000 children were deprived of vaccination as a result.
Although the overall response to this polio outbreak has been robust, with health authorities using every opportunity to reach children and monitor impact, collating information from all areas is difficult and coverage figures are still being compiled for the two recent campaigns.
In December, the region carried out the largest-ever immunization response in the Middle East, aiming to vaccinate more than 22 million children. Campaigns were held in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, Syria and Turkey.
Such campaigns are planned to continue over the next six months, to protect children in the region from poliovirus. As donors mobilize for the broader humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis in the ‘Kuwait II’ conference, among the first to respond to the polio outbreak were Rotary International, the Governments of Austria, Estonia and Germany, and the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).