On the sidelines of the war in Syria, far away from the daily news of death, the team of the “Vaccinate Syria” campaign concluded its second campaign in rebel-controlled areas of northern Syria on Tuesday. The most recent round of efforts began on August 13th, two months after the first campaign ended.
Dr. Marwan Qadour, the head of outreach and community mobilization for the organization, told the Syrian Voice about the campaign.
“It covered most of the rebel-controlled areas in northern Syria, including the Lattakia countryside, Idlib and Aleppo and their surrounding countrysides, and the countryside of Hama city. The campaign aimed to reach and inoculate all children in opposition controlled areas,” said Dr. Qadour.
The campaign was implemented with oversight from the World Health Organization and UNICEF, with a central coordination office in the border city of Gaziantep. Independent health directorates in opposition areas, which had precise statistics about the number of children and the residential areas that lay in their scope of work, carried out the campaign.
The vaccinations covered in the work included the pentavalent vaccine as well as both the muscular polio vaccine and the oral polio vaccine. The vaccines were provided by WHO and UNICEF, and were administered to children ranging from newborns to five years old.
The first campaign, according to organizers, resulted in 700,000 children receiving vaccinations. The numbers for the second campaign will be similar, they predict, because the number of newly born children is about the same as the number of children who are now older than five. The percentage of vaccinated children reached 93% during the current campaign due to the cooperation of the families and their understanding of the importance in participating in these kinds of campaigns.
The campaign, said Dr. Qadour, “includes 630 teams distributed throughout the provinces: 350 in Idlib and Lattakia, 250 in Aleppo and its environs, and 30 in the Hama countryside. Every team consists of four people, two inoculators: one for injections and one for oral vaccines, who must have a nursing certification, as well as a coordinator and a data-entry person, also trained for their specific tasks.”
Naturally, given the circumstances on the ground in Syria, there were challenges for the campaign.
“In the western Aleppo countryside, where there are 60,000 children, we had to put our work on hold during air raids. And the work in Aleppo city, where there are an estimated 40,000 children, had to be postponed until the conditions got better. In Idlib, teams took their work to the villages, which are considered safer than the cities,” said Dr. Qaddour.
The actual inoculation campaigned was preceded by a media campaign, which consisted of community meetings to explain the vaccines, hanging banners in the streets, and distributing pamphlets with bread. Additionally, cars circled the streets announcing the places and times of the vaccinations via loudspeaker and mosques helped to promote the campaign.
The father of a two-year-old child, Nabil Shaker, told the Syrian Voice “I wouldn’t have been able to vaccinate my child except through this campaign. I’m not able to go to regime areas, but I also couldn’t let my child go without vaccine and suffer. Also, the success of the first campaign gave me confidence in the second one.”
Abu Hussein, a civilian from Idlib, appreciated the campaign’s efforts, but said he thought “it is better to go to regime areas, as they are safer. Medical centers are often bombed, and especially recently in northern Syria a lot of clinics have been hit.”
Fadi Ahmed, a media-coordinator who accompanied the campaign in western Idlib, told the Syrian Voice “their campaign was really well received by locals, not to mention those in the IDP camps. The reception was even better this time than last.”
He added that “after the first campaign, a lot of the fears of locals dissipated, so there was faith in the second round.”
According to a UNICEF report from April 22, 2016, Syria ranked number three in the world in terms of the number of children without vaccinations, at a rate of 57%.
The report also detailed how children’s polio re-emerged in Syria in 2013, after it had been gone for 14 years. It also noted that other diseases, including swine flu and Heptatis A had spread, in some cases causing deaths. The main cause, according to the report, was the five-year old conflict in Syria.