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At a glance: Lebanon

Polio immunization campaign supports recovery in post-war Lebanon

© UNICEF Lebanon/2006/Debbas
Ali, 18 months, is vaccinated against polio at home, in Bint Jbeil, southern Lebanon. The first round of a two-part immunization campaign against polio was launched on 30 October.

By Serene Assir

BENT JBAIL, Lebanon, 31 October 2006 – In another key step towards recovery in post-war Lebanon, the first round of an emergency polio immunization campaign began yesterday, targeting all children up to five years of age.

More than 320,000 children throughout the country will receive their first dose of the vaccine against the crippling and potentially fatal disease this week. The second round of immunization is set for December.

Lebanon was declared polio-free in 2002, and Lebanese children are normally vaccinated as part of their primary health care. However, the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah severely disrupted routine health services – including childhood immunization – as approximately 1 million people were displaced from their homes.

Complicated outreach

“Usually, it wouldn’t be too hard for us to vaccinate all the children in Bint Jbeil, as we all know each other here and we know where we all live,” said local nurse Nawal Saab, a member of one of the teams working in Bint Jbeil. “This year, because so many houses have been destroyed and so many families have had to move in with relatives, outreach has been rendered more complicated. The map has changed.”

Indeed, well over two months after the ceasefire, an estimated 200,000 people remain displaced and are living with relatives or friends across Lebanon –  making the current campaign especially challenging.

Still, Ms. Saab is certain that in the next week all of Bint Jbeil’s young children will be vaccinated. She noted that the campaign’s door-to-door approach means vaccination teams will reach children whether they are residing in their own homes or elsewhere. The teams have devised a system for marking each house to indicate how many children are living there and how many have been immunized.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2006/Debbas
Lebanon’s polio vaccination campaign is targeting more than 320,000 children across the country.

If a child is not home when a team visits, the teams let parents know that they will return over the coming days.

Communities play key role

“People here are welcoming the campaign openly,” said Ms. Saab. “They know how important it is for their children’s health.” To reinforce this awareness, UNICEF has supported a national media effort comprising TV and radio advertisements, posters and flyers.

Among the many partners involved in the immunization drive are the Ministry of Public Health, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from Lebanon and the region, and local non-governmental organizations. In all, 2,000 medical volunteers and professionals trained by the ministry and UNICEF are administering the oral polio vaccine to children.

UNICEF is also providing 1 million doses of the polio vaccine, as well as the necessary cold-chain equipment to transport and preserve them. The quantity is more than enough to supply both the first and second rounds of the immunization campaign.

Immunizing every child

UNICEF previously supported an emergency polio campaign while the war was still going on; that drive vaccinated some 8,000 young children in centres and host homes for displaced families.

But the dangerous nature of the conflict made it impossible to reach children in the most affected areas, including southern Lebanon. Tracking of children in those areas was also impossible, given the constant movement of their families. Hence the urgent importance of nationwide immunization.

“To keep Lebanon polio-free and protect children’s health, it is critical to immunize every single child,” said UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Roberto Laurenti. “Since people from polio-affected countries in the region regularly move in and out of Lebanon, children are now vulnerable to infection. We need to act quickly and on a massive scale to eliminate that risk.”




31 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the first day of Lebanon’s polio immunization campaign.
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