Jordan

In Jordan, polio vaccination campaign focuses on Syrian refugee children

The recent polio outbreak in the Syrian Arab Republic highlights the urgency of vaccinating Syrian refugees in Jordan.  Download this video

 

By Toby Fricker

The recent polio outbreak in the Syrian Arab Republic highlights the critical importance of routine immunizations. In Jordan, the response has begun with polio vaccinations in Za’atari refugee camp, as part of a national campaign providing measles, rubella and polio vaccinations, as well as vitamin A supplements, to protect all communities.

ZA’ATARI CAMP, Jordan, 5 November 2013 – The smell of coffee breaks the stale, dusty Za’atari air. Inside a caravan home, 19-year-old Hana'a is cooking up a strong Arabic brew. Her 18-month-old daughter, Ayah, is playing ball with her father.                                                                          

The family fled the southern Syrian city of Busra al-Sham after their home was destroyed. For the past nine months, they have lived in this crowded desert encampment of more than 110,000 people, the second-largest refugee settlement in the world.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Jordan/2013/Lyon
Mansour, a volunteer community health worker, gives polio vaccine drops to a child in Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan.

Although hardly more than a child herself, Hana'a is a mother, and she’s pregnant again. She not only has to keep herself healthy, but also look after her daughter. This includes ensuring that she is up to date on routine immunizations, critical in the early years of life.

“We heard that polio appeared in Syria,” Hana'a says. “Thankfully, our children are being protected from this disease.”

Stopping polio in its tracks

Following the recent confirmation of 10 cases of polio inside the Syrian Arab Republic – the first in the country in 14 years – a vaccination campaign planned for the camp was moved forward by several days. As part of the larger regional response strategy, the campaign aims to reach all children under 5 years old.

Twenty-five-year-old Mansour is one of 120 community health volunteers in the camp going door to door to administer the polio drops. He is determined to protect the health of children in Za’atari.

“This work is important because this disease is very dangerous – any child affected may infect 20 or more children in the surrounding area,” he says. “It’s important because of the seriousness of the disease.”

A dentist from Dera’a, in the south of the Syrian Arab Republic, Mansour is covering the area of the camp where Ayah lives. The girl takes the polio drops with little fuss. Others are not so keen.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Jordan/2013/Lyon
UNICEF Jordan team discusses the day's plans for vaccinating Syrian children in Za'atari camp. In three days, nearly 19,000 children under 5 years old received polio drops.

In three days, nearly 19,000 children under 5 received polio drops. A second round will be conducted in a month, along with measles and rubella shots for those aged 6 months to 20 years, and vitamin A supplements for children from 6 months to 5 years old.

National coverage to protect all communities

In Za’atari camp, where tens of thousands of people live in congested conditions, stopping any outbreak of disease is critical. When it comes to viruses such as polio, however, there are no boundaries. In an environment of widespread displacement and continual population movements, even a single polio case poses a serious threat across the region.

In Jordan, a three-week national campaign is targeting nearly 3.4 million people with measles, rubella and polio vaccinations, as well as vitamin A supplements to support child growth and help combat infection. This includes 920,000 children under 5 with polio vaccinations. A second round for polio will take place in mid-December.

At a launch ceremony in an Amman health clinic, acting UNICEF Representative Rozanne Chorlton praised the Government of Jordan for its high immunization coverage. She also highlighted the serious importance of the routine vaccination programme, particularly following a measles outbreak earlier in the year and the recent polio cases inside the Syrian Arab Republic.

In the build-up to the launch, an intensive awareness campaign was conducted through the local media, as well as with posters and flyers. Two dedicated phone hotlines have also been set up and are available 24 hours a day.

The vaccinations are being carried out at 1,200 fixed sites, including health clinics, schools and universities; in addition, 300 mobile teams target the areas hardest to reach.

The national immunization campaign is led by the Jordanian Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the UN Refugee Agency, as well as other partners.


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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