“Everyone is coming to get their children vaccinated and I like to be one of the first,” said Samira at a primary health centre in Damascus where she brought her five year old daughter to be vaccinated.
Supported by UNICEF, a nation-wide measles campaign aimed to reach children between six months and five years of age.
Before the crisis began in 2011, Syria was measles free for two years. By the end of 2014, 594 children had been diagnosed with measles. Of these, almost half were not immunized. Since 2011, immunization rates across the country have fallen from 99 percent to just 52 per cent due to lack of access and severe damage to health infrastructure – nearly one third of the country’s health centres are either damaged or destroyed.
“What we fear most in times of crisis is that children get measles combined with malnutrition. This could be fatal for a child,” said Dr. Nidal Abou Rshaid, UNICEF Immunization expert in Damascus.
Children receiving the vaccines were also checked for signs of malnutrition. Additionally they were provided with vital supplements. Identified cases were referred to professional medical services when needed. Nearly 6,000 health staff and mobile teams are participating in the campaign.
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.
Community work is vital in spreading messages on this campaign. In the town of Marabaa, a large host for internally displaced in the Damascus suburbs, the number of the displaced has doubled. “Electricity only comes for an hour or two per day. We had use megaphones and mosques” said a community leader in the area.
UNICEF estimates that up to 230,000 may have been missed in this campaign.
“The active fighting in some locations in Syria is hampering efforts to reach our targets” said Dr. Haydar Nasser, Chief of Health and Nutrition in UNICEF Syria. “However, we have reports that we were able to reach 1.6 million children across the country including in some of the hard-to-reach areas like Ar-Raqqa, Idleb and Deir Ezzor. The Minstry of Health was able to deliver the vaccines in cooperation with health partners” he added.
This is the second campaign in less than a year. In 2014, UNICEF and partners reached 840,000 children with vaccination against measles.