In Lebanon, a mass Polio immunization campaign targets hundreds of thousands of children
Beirut, 8 November 2013 – Amidst concerns of the polio outbreak in Syria, UNICEF and the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health launch today a mass vaccination campaign across Lebanon targeting hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and Syrian children under-five.
Over the coming five days vaccination teams will be visiting homes, health centres, and 400 informal tented settlements for Syrian refugees. Vaccination stations will also be set up at 4 official border points and at the airport to ensure that all children coming into the country are vaccinated.
The Lebanese minister of public health launched the vaccination campaign under the name “from door to door” from the Tel Chiha Hospital in Zahle, east Lebanon.
“Lebanon has been free of Polio for the past 12 years. To ensure that our children continue to be safe we launch today a country-wide mandatory and free vaccination campaign to protect every child in Lebanon, regardless of their nationality.” said said Mr. Ali Hassan Khalil, the Minister of Public Health, during the launch of the vaccination campaign at The Chiha hospital in Zahle, east Lebanon, adding “in collaboration with UNICEF, WHO and local partners we reach 750,000 children to protect them from Polio.”
UNICEF has mobilized a huge supply operation to ensure that 1.5 million polio vaccine doses are in place across Lebanon and distributed through the Ministry of Public Health and local partners.
“We must act quickly to ensure that each and every child in Lebanon is vaccinated. Lebanon has maintained its polio-free status for over a decade and we stand hand in hand as UN agencies, government partners, civil society, parents and caregivers to safeguard the health of Lebanon’s future generations. All it takes is two drops form a very safe vaccine” said UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, Ms. Anna-Maria Laurini.
Coinciding with the launch the vaccination campaign UNICEF is launching a large communication and social mobilization drive emphasizing the importance of vaccinating all children under five. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets, posters, a radio spot and a cartoon TV spot will aid social mobilization teams in raising awareness of the critical importance of vaccinating children against polio.
Since January this year UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Public Health and local NGOs, has stepped up its immunizations interventions, providing free vaccinations, including polio, for all children at border points and through mobile clinics at informal tented settlements across Lebanon.
“Polio is a highly infectious virus that is transmitted orally and thrives in unhygienic conditions.” said Dr. Zeroual Azzeddine, Chief of Health at UNICEF Lebanon, adding “Many Syrian refugee families live in difficult conditions putting children at too high a risk. We must all work together to ensure the protection of all children”.
Lebanon hosts the largest number of families displaced by the Syrian crisis with more than 727,300 registered refugees, over half of which are children, many living in informal tented settlements with little or no access to basic services.
The campaign launched today is part of a region wide polio vaccination response in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon launched by UN-agencies in partnership with local governments to contain the outbreak of a disease that has returned to the region after more than a decade.