Share and raise awareness on #ChildrenofSyria
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©UNICEF/Turkey-2013/Guler

©UNICEF/Turkey-2013/Guler

Syria’s example shows that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere. It also shows how quickly and devastatingly children’s health can be impacted by conflict, even in a country with well-established healthcare.

Only 52% of Syrian children aged 12-23 months had received three doses of the polio vaccine by the year 2012, as the conflict gained force – a dramatic drop from 80% coverage in 2000. From 500,000-700,000 children could not be reached due to insecurity and access constraints. 

These vaccination rates were not high enough to protect Syrian children against the re-introduction of the polio virus, of which the country had previously been rid since 1999.

Syria’s is a unique situation, and the social obstacles to reaching all Syrian children – both inside and outside the country – with repeated doses of the vaccine are likewise unique. In Syria, the way we communicate with parents, religious and community leaders, and children themselves can make or break our ability to reach every child with the vaccine.

“Open wide!” A Syrian boy gets his polio vaccine in Turkey, as part of the region-wide mass vaccination campaign.

 

©UNICEF/Syria-2013/Sanadiki

©UNICEF/Syria-2013/Sanadiki

Delivering the polio vaccine to more than 23 million children in the region is a mammoth effort. Without the many hundreds of health workers working tirelessly to reach children with the vaccine, the effort would be impossible.

Still, social barriers can stand in the way – and ongoing dialogue with families and community/religious leaders is crucial to overcoming them.

For instance, in order to achieve a level of vaccine coverage high enough to wipe out the polio virus, Syrian children and those in neighboring countries must receive multiple doses of the vaccine over the coming months. As vaccination teams return again and again to the same families to administer many doses of the vaccine, parents can begin to question why so many rounds are necessary.

The answer is simple: With each dose of the vaccine, children gain greater immunity against the virus and contribute to the immunity of other children around them. But for Syrian families already facing challenges like poverty and displacement, the new requirement for multiple doses of OPV may seem cumbersome.

©UNICEF/Jordan-2013/Lyon

©UNICEF/Jordan-2013/Lyon

 

10 million doses of the polio vaccine are being sent to Syria alone, to make sure all accessible children there receive enough doses to be fully protected against polio.

But Syria is also a country where parents are accustomed to the injectable form of the vaccine, IPV, which is the appropriate form in a country where the polio virus is no longer in active circulation. Transitioning back to oral polio drops (OPV) has posed another communication challenge.

IPV protects children well from polio, but it does not stop the spread of the virus. Only OPV can do that. This means that when the wild polio virus is circulating, OPV is the only effective strategy to stop the virus from spreading. It creates immunity in the intestinal tract, which is needed to interrupt person-to-person spread of the virus, particularly in settings of high population density and poor sanitation.

Here, again, the way health workers and community mobilisers communicate with the parents and communities they serve can have a strong impact. Communication is key to reaching as many children as possible with OPV, and ridding Syria’s children of the disease once and for all.

©UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0682/Noorani.

©UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0682/Noorani.

Protecting children inside Syria against polio is vital after outbreaks. Overcoming all barriers to reaching them, however, is difficult. From health workers on the ground to the international community, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure all children are protected against the virus. As long as polio exists anywhere in the world, every child everywhere is at risk.

We call for all parties to pause the conflict, to allow us to reach children at risk.

1 person can make a difference: You. Speak up to help us reach every child.

©UNICE/ Jordan-2013/Sharpe

©UNICE/ Jordan-2013/Sharpe

But there are hopeful numbers too.

23 Million children in Syria and nearby countries are receiving the polio vaccine in the largest mass immunisation campaign in the region’s history.

2.2 Million children have been reached with the polio vaccine so far in Syria itself, amidst extreme challenges. Of these, 300,000 children received the vaccine in the contested area of Deir Ezzour.

7 countries and territories in the Middle East and North Africa have declared the polio outbreak an emergency. They have acted swiftly to prevent the spread of polio, coming together to carry out mass vaccination campaigns over the coming 6-8 months.

1 girl – Sham, a Syrian refugee at Jordan’s Za’atari Refugee Camp – holds up her pinkie to show a black-marked fingernail. The marked fingernails help ensure that no child at Za’atari, or at the other campaign sites reaching children in the Middle East and North Africa, is missed.

©UNICEF/Turkey-2013/Guler

©UNICEF/Turkey-2013/Guler

Syria’s example shows that polio anywhere is a threat to children everywhere. It also shows how quickly and devastatingly children’s health can be impacted by conflict, even in a country with well-established healthcare.

Only 52% of Syrian children aged 12-23 months had received three doses of the polio vaccine by the year 2012, as the conflict gained force – a dramatic drop from 80% coverage in 2000. From 500,000-700,000 children could not be reached due to insecurity and access constraints.

These vaccination rates were not high enough to protect Syrian children against the re-introduction of the polio virus, of which the country had previously been rid since 1999.

Syria’s is a unique situation, and the social obstacles to reaching all Syrian children – both inside and outside the country – with repeated doses of the vaccine are likewise unique. In Syria, the way we communicate with parents, religious and community leaders, and children themselves can make or break our ability to reach every child with the vaccine.

“Open wide!” A Syrian boy gets his polio vaccine in Turkey, as part of the region-wide mass vaccination campaign.

 

 

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