A health worker’s quest to protect children in Hama, Syria

"While on the move, my biggest fear was that there would be disease outbreaks because children were no longer getting vaccinated"

Hasan Mahmoud
Health worker preparing a vaccine
Syria 2019/ Abdulmalek Alsibai
08 April 2019

Every morning, as I see off mobile health teams getting ready to start their tour around rural Hama, I feel an immense sense of pride. Just over a year ago, I was standing at the same spot by the ruins of Suran health centre wondering how we would ever be able to carry out our work.

I was born in Suran in northern rural Hama, and have been working here as the head of immunization services to protect children against diseases. Children’s health here has become my life calling.   

Like most of my village’s population, I spent years on the move. As violence escalated in our village, we at times risked our lives to save children’s vaccines from cross fire. But in early 2013, I made the decision to flee with my parents, wife and two children to Hama city. We spent the drive through conflict lines in tears. I will never forget the screams of my children. I lost count of how many times we fled back and forth between Suran and Hama over five years of violence.

While on the move, my biggest fear was that there would be disease outbreaks because children were no longer getting vaccinated.

While we couldn’t work in Suran, mobile health teams continued supporting children and families who had fled from the village to the city and surrounding villages.

In early 2018, following after violence subsided in Suran, I drove there alone.

I found my home and the village’s health centre completely destroyed. The pain of that day will never leave me.

But there was no time to waste as families were flocking back into the village. I knew we had to resume our work immediately and so we started with a small team, using our personal cars going around the village to provide returning children with vaccines and healthcare. We also used an unfinished building near the destroyed health centre to serve as a temporary clinic in the most rudimentary conditions.

UNICEF was quick to take action, setting up a pre-fabricated health clinic with a power generator near the old health centre.

Since then, we have been able to provide children and families with life-saving health care services. Thanks to the Office of U.S Foreign Disaster Assistance and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, we have also been able to protect them against common childhood illnesses.

It has been a long journey of displacement and loss, but hearing “bless you” from a parent after we treat or vaccinate their children, means the world to us.

Health worker with families
Syria 2019/ Abdulmalek Alsibai
Hasan answers families’ questions by the UNICEF-supported prefabricated health clinic.