Vaccinations to protect children rolled out in Athens’ camp

Published: 12 July 2016 16:21 CET

By Anita Dullard, IFRC

In his home country, Sami* was a chauffeur for tourists, driving sightseers to the many ancient relics Syria boasted before the war. Not with a little irony, Sami fled to Europe with his five young children, ending up on Greece’s tourist-laden island shores earlier this year.

Like any dad, the health of his kids is paramount. And access to essential early childhood vaccinations has been high on his agenda since arriving in Greece’s Scaramagas migrant hosting centre on the outskirts of Athens.

Sami’s kids, aged between one-and-a-half and 15 have had access to Red Cross emergency health units within the centre since they arrived four months ago.  

“I have taken the children in for basic health things, cold and fever with the little one, and for toothache,” he says. In addition to treating basic health needs on site, this week the Hellenic Red Cross together with the Spanish Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has begun a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination campaign for children aged 1-15. The vaccines were provided by the Ministry of Health, which has principle responsibility for the welfare of all migrants.

The life-saving injections are critical to the healthy development of children and protect against deadly outbreaks in situations where communities live closely together— like refugee camps.

Health care is one of the vital services provided by the Hellenic Red Cross. As children and women make up over 60 per cent of the population, paediatricians and midwifes are a key feature of the clinics. Specific focus is paid to health promotion and preventing disease outbreaks.

At Scaramagas, 850 children have received their MMR vaccination. Thousands more across Greece also expected to receive the jab.

Hellenic Red Cross health coordinator, Lina Tsitsou, said: “Our teams witness daily the impact uncertain situation and dire conditions are having on the physical and mental health of people – they’re exhausted, desperate and frustrated.

“It’s so important that we provide this vaccination and address the challenges of access to healthcare that migrants face as they seek safety and refuge.”

For kids who have experienced so much upheaval and trauma, creating a safe and fun space for children receiving their vaccination is crucial to ensure they build positive associations with the health care they receive.

Sami says these spaces are vital within the camp. “It’s so hot, there is very little shade, and there is no space specifically for kids,” he said. “Mostly, the children play just inside our caravan.”

Spanish Red Cross psychological support expert, Helen Pardo Riikonen, has worked with volunteers and partner organizations at Scaramagas to create these areas.

She says: “After the vaccination, parents and the children need to wait for 15 minutes for observation, so we tried to create an area where children can play and be themselves. We hope we’re creating an environment that leads them to form a memory of feeling safe.”

*Editor’s note:  Name has been changed for privacy reasons

The Red Cross operations in Greece are funded by IFRC’s emergency appeal of 28.7 million Swiss francs, which includes financial support from the EU’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and other donors.