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At a glance: Lebanon

In Lebanon, protecting hundreds of thousands of children against polio

Watch the launch of a mass vaccination campaign in Lebanon that aims to protect 750,000 children under age 5 against polio.  Download this video


By Salam Abdulmunem

Lebanon has been polio-free for the past 12 years, but with concerns of a polio outbreak in Syria, a two-round vaccination campaign is targeting hundreds of thousands of children under 5 in Lebanon.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2013/Saade
An infant is immunized against polio during the campaign. Vaccination teams are visiting homes, health centres and informal settlements to ensure that every child is reached.

OMARIYA, Lebanon, 13 November 2013 – On the morning of 8 November, scores of Syrian refugee children at the Omariya informal settlement in east Lebanon held a joyful demonstration amongst the tents in their camp. Accompanied by social worker from the Lebanese NGO Beyond, they held colourful placards with the word ‘polio’ in Arabic crossed out, and they chanted, “Mom, Mom, I want to get vaccinated! Dad, Dad, I want to get vaccinated!”

The launch of an unprecedented mass polio vaccination campaign at Omariya – and across Lebanon – was well and truly underway.

Over the following five days UNICEF, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and local NGOs, provided 1.5 million vaccination shots to reach 750,000 children in Lebanon, regardless of nationality.

Vaccination teams visited homes, health centres and around 390 informal tented settlements where Syrian refugee families live. Vaccination stations were also set up at four official border points to ensure all children coming into the country are vaccinated.

Two drops

UNICEF Lebanon Representative Annamaria Laurini visited the Omariya settlement on the day of the campaign launch. “We must act quickly to ensure that each and every child in Lebanon is vaccinated,” she said. “We stand hand in hand as UN agencies, government partners, civil society together. All it takes is two drops.”


© UNICEF Lebanon/2013/Saade
UNICEF Lebanon Representative Annamaria Laurini (behind, centre) stands with children as they display their thumbs – marked in ink to indicate they have been vaccinated.

Coinciding with the vaccination campaign, UNICEF launched a broad communication and social mobilization drive emphasizing the importance of vaccinating all children under 5. Hundreds of thousands of leaflets, posters, a radio spot and a cartoon TV spot are intended to raise awareness among parents and caregivers to safeguard the health of Lebanon’s future generations.

”Immunization is among the most successful, most equitable and most cost-effective public-health interventions, and we want to make sure not to lose one child,” Ms. Laurini said. 

Major challenge

A few minutes away from Omariya, at the Basal collective shelter for Syrian refugees, families came out to greet the four-person vaccination team. Mothers encouraged the children to take the two drops of polio vaccine by telling them it is ‘assir’ – juice. 

Hala and Rakad, the two youngest siblings in a family of 10 from Al-Raqqah in Syria, got their drops of ‘assir’ as their mother watched. 

“I only know it is a disease, but all my other children are vaccinated,” she said “I am happy they are getting their vaccines.” 

One of the difficulties facing the vaccination drive in Lebanon is reaching the Syrian refugee children spread out in hundreds of locations across the country. With nearly 730,000 registered refugees from Syria – more than half of them children – Lebanon faces a major challenge in maintaining its polio-free status. 

The second round of the vaccination campaign will start on 6 December.




UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis


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