SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2018

Polio vaccination campaigns push on in Syria despite challenges

More than two million children were immunized against polio throughout Syria in the week ending January 11, according to a recent report from the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

The vaccinations were part of the third round of a campaign carried out by local health and community authorities, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other partners. A collaboration with humanitarian agencies helped local communities to reach children in multiple contested areas that were not reached in October and December campaigns.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership led by national governments and public health organizations, said each campaign allows more families to take part in the vaccination activities. The initiative said more actors are cooperating and supporting the polio immunization effort throughout the war-torn country.

"We are seeing high demand for immunization among the population," Chris Maher, a WHO epidemiologist, said. "This reflects the increasing public awareness of the risks of polio, which until this past autumn had not been seen in Syria since 1999. When families know that immunization is offered, they make a great effort to get their children vaccinated."

The campaign is increasing momentum through improved information flow, ongoing training, better planning and improved engagement. Despite the gains, heavy fighting in some areas disrupted operations, keeping at least 100,000 children from receiving the vaccines.

In December, the region carried out the largest-ever immunization response in the Middle East, seeking to vaccinate more than 22 million children in Turkey, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.