On the road: UNICEF Lebanon’s Accelerated Immunisation Activities targeting preventable diseases

Accelerated Immunization Activities programme encourages the uptake of free vaccinations at health centres – venues where families can also access other essential healthcare services

Simon Balsom
Outreach workers informing women and children on how to reach life-saving vaccination programmes.
UNICEF2020/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
06 January 2021

2020’s COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines in Lebanon and worldwide. Today, outreach workers from Lebanese NGO Al Midan – working in support of Lebanese society and marginalised communities - are visiting families across North Lebanon as part of a programme of UNICEF-supported and Alwaleed Philanthropies-funded accelerated immunisation activities (AIA) aimed at strengthening routine immunisation against vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, amongst the country’s children.

Vaccination coverage in Lebanon dropped during 2020, mainly due to COVID-19 lockdowns. “Inequities exist between regions regarding immunisation”, highlights UNICEF Lebanon Health Officer Farah Mazloum while in North Lebanon. “Some districts have higher coverage, and this current round of AIA targets a closing of the gap in these inequities”.  The current UNICEF-supported accelerated immunisation activities (AIA) programme encourages the uptake of free vaccinations from birth to eighteen-years-of-age at primary health care centres and dispensaries – venues where families can also access other essential healthcare services.

Outreach workers from Lebanese NGO and UNICEF partner Al Midan visit a home in Zgharta, North Lebanon, as part of a programme aimed at raising immunisation levels against vaccine-preventable diseases nationwide.
UNICEF2020/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
Outreach workers from Lebanese NGO and UNICEF partner Al Midan visit a home in Zgharta, North Lebanon, as part of a programme aimed at raising immunisation levels against vaccine-preventable diseases nationwide.

While 2020 has seen a drop in coverage – mainly due to COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns, the dire economic crisis, the sudden dramatic rise in poverty for the majority of the population - several other issues remain, including a lack of trust in public services, the fact that some parents still aren’t aware of the existence of quality public immunisation services, and instances where families would previously use private healthcare services but can no longer afford to – a situation very much on the rise through 2020 – and haven’t yet become accustomed to the thought of ‘going public’. Facing a healthy child, parents and caregivers tend to neglect preventive action like immunisation and simply forget to bring children for routine check-up. Together, UNICEF and Al Midan are sharing a unified vaccine message… direct to communities, to the caregivers of vulnerable children.

Outreach workers informing children on how to reach life-saving vaccination programmes.
UNICEF2020/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
Outreach workers informing women and children on how to reach life-saving vaccination programmes.

“Not only did my children receive vaccinations, but they were given vitamins to help compensate for some dietary deficiencies. They also educated us about precautions we should take to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19”, they even told me on good feeding practices for my children, 40-year-old mother Nazira said.

"They also educated us about precautions we should take to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19"

Although the current UNICEF-supported accelerated immunisation activities (AIA) outreach aims to encourage parents and caregivers to visit PHCs to receive measles vaccinations and complete the vaccination status of the child, Al Midan also highlights other healthcare, nutrition and wellbeing services available at the centres. While visiting their local PHCs, other mothers have received help and advice regarding breastfeeding, child nutrition and sexual health.

Nazira with her husband and children
UNICEF2020/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon

2020 has seen a decline in coverage against vaccine-preventable diseases within all sectors of society in Lebanon – mainly due to COVID-19 and its associated lockdowns – and the current UNICEF-supported accelerated immunisation activities aim to ensure there are no vaccination defaulters. Their success is measured by one simple metric: a lower risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. 2018 and 2019’s measles outbreak would have been prevented had vaccination levels been maintained. The race is on through into 2021 to protect families by ensuring this doesn’t happen again, and that the most vulnerable children have equitable chance to get vaccinated against Measles everywhere in Lebanon, even in the most remote and difficult to reach communities.