DAMASCUS, 24 April 2015- A ten-day immunization campaign is underway in Syria to respond to measles cases across the country. By end of 2014, 594 children had been diagnosed with measles, double the number in 2013.
Launched on 19 April, the campaign targets children between six months and five years of age. UNICEF estimates that over 230,000 children in hard-to-reach areas across the country will likely miss out due to the ongoing conflict.
Almost half of the children with measles in Syria were not immunized. Since the conflict began in 2011 immunization rates across the country have fallen from 99 percent to just 52 per cent due to severe damage to health infrastructure.
Vaccination will be provided in 1,209 health centres. However, about one third of the country’s health centres cannot be used because they are either damaged or destroyed. Nearly 6,000 health staff and mobile teams are participating in the campaign.
“In situations of conflict and upheaval, measles can be deadly, especially for children, which is why we must do everything possible to get all children vaccinated wherever they are across the country.” Said Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “As long as children are left under-reached, we will continue to have the risk of children falling ill and diseases spreading”.
The campaign coincides with World Immunization Week which focuses this year on “Closing the Gap” – sending a direct appeal to the global health community to focus on vaccinating the most marginalized children.
In Syria, UNICEF and partners will focus during this campaign on reaching the displaced children. UNICEF estimates there are more than 3.8 million children internally displaced across the country, many of whom were missed out in previous measles campaigns. At least 646,000 are under the age of 5.
Children receiving the vaccines will also be checked for signs of malnutrition and be provided with vital supplements and referral to medical services as needed.
This is the second campaign in less than a year. In 2014, UNICEF and partners reached 840,000 children with vaccination against measles.
UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health with the provision of vaccinations and syringes, cold chain equipment and training of vaccinators. Mass media and community outreach activities are taking place including through the dissemination of short message services (SMS), community meetings, recreation activities and social media campaigns.