By Ayberk Yurtsever
Istanbul – June 2014 – Turkey’s campaign to vaccinate children at risk of polio has reached Istanbul. Led by the Ministry of Health and assisted by UNICEF, 290,000 children under-5 in the city’s districts of Ümraniye, Sancaktepe, Esenyurt, Sultangazi, Fatih and Küçükçekmece have been immunized.
Thousands of children — regardless of nationality — have already been vaccinated as part of the country-wide program led by the Scientific Board of Ministry of Health, supported by UNICEF, to avoid the resurgence of polio in Turkey.
Syrian youngsters are deemed to be particularly at risk after the outbreak of the disease in the war-torn country late last year. The conflict has meant many refugee children have not had any vaccinations in the past three years. To combat this, all children received oral vaccinations regardless of previous immunizations, to ensure no one was missed out.
The first round of the campaign saw Ministry of Health workers carry out home visits from 5th-11th June. An information awareness drive was also rolled out with brochures and posters printed in both Turkish and Arabic, and handed out to families to highlight the importance of the program.
Vaccinations reach 17 provinces so far
Turkey’s vaccination campaign against polio was launched in autumn 2013 to reach children under-5 in 17 provinces in two rounds. Minister of Health Mehmet Müezzinoğlu said the six Istanbul districts targeted were identified by the Ministry’s scientific board to be “at risk” and confirmed the second round will be completed next month. Müezzinoğlu also addressed Turkey’s health policy with regards to Syrians entering the country, a serious concern given polio’s resurgence in the state, which has been plagued by civil war. He said, “All Syrians are only allowed to cross the border after all required vaccines and health checks have been administered. “People who cross the border without medical checks are issued with the relevant health measures as they come into contact with our Ministry.”
No polio case observed in Turkey since 1998
Turkey was certified polio-free by World Health Organization in 2002 with its last polio case recorded in 1998. Despite this, the Commission on the Certification of Polio of the Ministry of Health launched a nationwide vaccination campaign as large numbers of Syrians arrived in Turkey, to escape the bloodshed. Polio re-emerged as a threat in Syria in Autumn 2013. Turkish regions within the scope of the campaign include Hatay, Gaziantep, Kilis, Sanliurfa, Mardin, Sirnak, Adana, Kahramanmaras, Malatya, Adiyaman and Osmaniye, Van, Diyarbakir, Siirt, Hakkari, Batman, Mersin and Istanbul.
UNICEF Turkey supports the vaccination program, led by the Ministry of Health by providing vaccines and undertaking the communication activities for all campaigns.