Immunization campaign for displaced children in Lebanon gains momentum
© UNICEF video
The Lebanese Minister of Health, Dr. Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh, administers a measles vaccination to a boy in a camp for displaced people in central Beirut.
By Simon Ingram
BEIRUT, Lebanon, 11 August 2006 – A UNICEF-backed campaign to immunize children displaced by the ongoing conflict in Lebanon is now under way across the country.
Launched in the Beirut area last week amid logistical and other difficulties, the measles and polio immunization drive has expanded. Vaccination teams are now targeting an estimated 100,000 children dispersed in different regions.
According to the Ministry of Health, in the greater Beirut area alone, children at over 140 schools and other public buildings have already been vaccinated. Early assessments show that at each location, 95 per cent of children are receiving the required doses – a figure that UNICEF health experts say indicates a high level of effectiveness.
Children under the age of five receive polio drops. Those between the ages of 9 months and 15 years receive injections of measles vaccine. Vaccinators are also dispensing capsules of vitamin A, a micronutrient that helps boost children's resistance against illness.
© UNICEF video
Over 300 children have been immunized against measles and polio at this site in a public garden in central Beirut. UNICEF hopes to provide an estimated 100,000 displaced children with vaccinations to prevent outbreaks.
Maximum coverage a priority
The Minister of Health, Dr. Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh, has underlined the importance of the campaign. Speaking in Beirut earlier this week, he said the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which many displaced families were now living raised the risk to children from infectious diseases such as measles and polio.
“Considering the current situation and circumstances, we are afraid of an outbreak,” said Dr. Khalifeh. “What we are doing now is a re-consolidation of the immunity of our children across the country.”
Despite the encouraging results so far, the fact that more families continue to arrive at many displacement centres means that achieving universal coverage of children will not be easy. Return visits by vaccinations teams to these centres are already planned.
With supplies of vaccine already running low, the campaign is heavily reliant on the arrival of a consignment of 200,000 doses each of polio and measles vaccine. UNICEF has air-freighted the vaccine to Damascus, Syria, and aims to transport it to Beirut by refrigerated truck over the weekend – though securing and moving vehicles across the border remains a challenge.