Campaign to protect thousands of children from polio in Syria

Publié: 27 novembre 2013 15:36 CET

By Viviane Tou'meh, SARC

A paper sent from the school to Naya’s mother says: “Just to be informed that next week we will vaccinate your child for Polio.”

Telephone calls started among children’s mothers in order to acknowledge the matter. “I worry about polio. Every day I ask my daughter if she got the vaccination. If they will be late, I have to take her to the doctor soon, I will not wait for a long time,” says Naya’s mother.

This worry – shared among many parents in Syria – is understandable in light of the current situation.

The conflict in Syria has allowed polio to return. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that polio has returned to Syria for the first time since 1995, infecting at least 10 young children, while it has previously announced that more than 100,000 children under the age 5 years are susceptible to polio in Deir Ezzor.

“Polio is striking in the midst of an already difficult situation,” a UN report says. “More than one-third of all hospitals have closed, and more than two-thirds of health workers have fled the country.” Access to medical supplies and medical services is becoming increasingly difficult for people throughout the country because of problems delivering certain supplies and running health care centers in certain areas.

Emergency procedures to immunize high-risk areas as quickly as possible and to protect the Syrian children have been taken by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) in cooperation with WHO, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Health.

Polio knows no boundaries, and the fear is that without immediate action, the outbreak of polio could turn into an epidemic. SARC has taken the lead to reach high-risk children across the frontlines with life-saving vaccinations. The challenge is to reach all children across the country.

Local Red Crescent volunteers – in Syria and neighboring countries – have been critical to the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement’s efforts to provide life-saving care and basic services communities within Syria and to people fleeing the conflict in neighbouring countries. Because they speak the language and are well connected in the community, local volunteers are able to reach those who may not be accessible to international organizations.

The only way to stop polio is to ensure that every child – including those in ‘hot areas’ – is vaccinated. SARC has a number of medical teams who can move among the local communities and vaccinate children. “The vaccine which is used in Syria is just a few drops to protect a child for a life,” says Dr. Hazem Bakleh, SARC Medical Services Director and the Director of Al Akram Center.

SARC was already running vaccination campaigns for measles, mumps and rubella, before the polio outbreak, and is now stepping up its work through its 14 branches and many sub-branches.

Dr. Hazem says: “In cooperation with relevant authorities, SARC will organize and sometimes carry out vaccinations in so called hot areas where there is no other health provider. Logistically, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will provide us with 100 cool boxes to be used for this campaign.”

Mr. Omran al-Hamed, the SARC’s dispensary Manager in Deir Ezzor says: “We started to form our medical teams of our volunteers in order to be ready and start immediately when we know the areas that we need to visit.”

SARC’s Homs branch has delivered vaccinations to al-Rastan and Talbiseh cities and al-Qaryateen. The Directorate of Health in al-Rastan will take the lead with the vaccination process and SARC’s sub-branch in Talbiseh will vaccinate the children of this area.

Dr. Hazem says: “We have delivered vaccines to Bloudan in Rural Damascus in the beginning of November; meanwhile, our Mobile Health Unit provided medical care consultations to displaced people in this area.”

SARC’S Al-Raqqah and Rural Damascus branches kicked off the campaign, while coordination has been done with the Directorates of Health in Rural Damascus, Damascus and Daraa.