First phase of biggest regional vaccination campaign completed

First phase of biggest regional vaccination campaign completed In a report released 22 July, WHO and UNICEF announced completion of the first phase of the biggest polio vaccination campaign ever undertaken in the history of the Middle East. Twenty-five million children under the age of five were reached in seven countries in 37 rounds.

“Despite immense challenges and the desperate conditions around the region, children were vaccinated from three to six times. This gives a glimpse of hope and is largely thanks to thousands of unsung heroes: committed health workers and volunteers who undertook such a formidable task all over the region and inside Syria braving dangers to provide the polio vaccination to children” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. The report attributes the return of polio to Syria after 14 years to the following factors: Disruption of routine immunization, severe damage to Syria’s health infrastructure, continuous population displacement within Syria and across its borders and missing out on children.

According to the report polio vaccination coverage has dramatically declined in Syria from an average of 99% to 52%. At least 60% of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed or damaged and less than a third of public ambulances still function. Supply of vaccination, service vehicles and cold chain equipment have been damaged, put permanently out of service or lost.

“Polio has forced its way back to Syria, adding to what was already a humanitarian disaster. We got to a point where we had to work with very limited resources to defeat what had been a long forgotten enemy in this region: one that does not know borders or checkpoints and can travel fast, infecting children not just in war torn Syria but across the region” said Chris Maher, WHO Manager for Polio Eradication and Emergency Support.

More than 6.5 million Syrian children are now in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance. Inside Syria, 765,000 children under the age of five live in hard-toreach areas where conflict and restriction makes it extremely difficult to reach them with humanitarian assistance including regular access to vaccines.

The report says that a number of critical actions must be undertaken to end the polio spread in the region: l Grant immediate and unhindered access to hard-to-reach children under the age of five inside Syria. l Guarantee the safe passage of health workers and protect medical vehicles and other cold chain equipment inside Syria. l Raise awareness on polio and the need to vaccinate all children under the age of five around the region multiple times. l Secure funding to undertake repeated vaccination rounds by the end of 2014.

“Our job is far from over. In the coming months, we have to reach more and more children especially those who have not been reached because of the insecurity and violence” concluded Calivis.

Polio vaccination campaign launched in Iraq

The WHO announced mid-August that Iraq has launched a polio immunization campaign aiming to protect over four million children under the age of 5 throughout the country against the crippling disease.

The four-day campaign, undertaken by the Ministry of Health with the support of WHO and UNICEF, is part of the national response to the reemergence of the polio virus earlier this year which ended nearly 14 years of Iraq’s polio-free status.

Chris Maher, WHO manager for polio eradication, said: “Iraq is one of seven countries included in a consolidated polio response plan by WHO and UNICEF that aims to reach 25 million children in the region with repeated doses of the vaccine.

Everything possible must be done to reach all children and end polio forever.” Marzio Babille, UNICEF Iraq Representative, said: “This campaign comes at a critical time while the country is witnessing a huge internal exodus of children fleeing violence and turmoil. This is a top priority for UNICEF.

No child should be missed. No child should be paralysed.” The campaign aims to reach children in conflict zones, displaced communities and host populations.

The ongoing violence in the country has precipitated the internal displacement of nearly 1.2 million people since the beginning of the year. Almost 200,000 have been displaced only in the last three days alone (8-11 August).

UNICEF estimates half of that number are children. “As the violence spreads, children are being displaced up to three times with their families, often living in overcrowded conditions where they are at a much higher risk of contracting infectious diseases,” said Dr Syed Jaffar Hussain, WHO Representative in Iraq.

“WHO is working with the national health authorities and partners to ensure that the health of all vulnerable populations, especially children, is protected against diseases like polio.” With two cases of polio in Iraq and a relatively high number of unvaccinated children due to difficulties in accessing families and children, especially in conflict zones and due to social reservations, Iraq has now become vulnerable to a wider outbreak of the crippling and incurable disease.

WHO and UNICEF are helping health authorities reach children in 12 governorates, including the three governorates in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq where approximately 250,000 Iraqi children and 125,000 Syrian children have taken refuge.

 Date of upload: 16th Sep 2014


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