WHO and UNICEF launch cholera vaccination campaign in northwest Syria

WHO and UNICEF launch cholera vaccination campaign in northwest Syria. Image: Michele Ursi / Shutterstock.com.

The campaign is part of the earthquake response, UNICEF confirmed on Wednesday, March 8.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in coordination with health authorities, the Syria Immunization Group (SIG), and the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI), kicked off a cholera vaccination campaign in earthquake-hit areas of northwest Syria.

During the campaign, 1.7 million doses of cholera vaccine will be used to protect Syrians above one year of age, especially those living in the areas most severely impacted by the earthquake and at the highest risk of cholera, including Sarmada, Maaret Tamsrin, Dana, and Atmeh districts in Idleb, and in A’zaz district in northern Aleppo.

1,400 teams of health workers and community volunteers will implement the ten-day campaign using a house-to-house strategy, as well as reaching displaced people living in camps, markets, and school sites.

“WHO warns against the increase of water-borne diseases for over 2.1 million Syrians living in the northwest of the country, with the risk increasing significantly in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, especially in overcrowded camps and collective centres,” says Doctor Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director for WHO’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.

“WHO and partners have to act now to avoid further illness and death. As the cholera vaccines are orally administered, it is crucial to ensure that targeted populations are reached before the beginning of the Holy month of Ramadan, as most adults will be fasting during this period”.

“After years of conflict, and two catastrophic earthquakes, the dangers that unsanitary conditions and unsafe water pose to children may seem inconsequential, but we know that if waterborne diseases take hold, the effects can be disastrous,” said UNICEF Deputy Regional Director programmes for the Middle East and North Africa, Maddalena Bertolotti.

“This vaccination campaign is vital as it will provide much-needed protection for children and their families and will help curb the spread of the disease, which can put millions of people at risk.”

Since the cholera outbreak was first declared in Syria on 10 September 2022, over 50 thousand suspected cases have been reported in both Idlib and Aleppo governorates, of which 18% of suspected cases were from internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

In week 6 of 2023, the week of the earthquake, reported cases declined by 63 per cent, reflecting the drop in presentations and reporting. Since then, surveillance has resumed and in week 8/2023 1,784 new cases were reported.

There is still an urgent need to ramp up surveillance and response for epidemic-prone diseases after the earthquake, with a particular focus on the spring season which will see a shift in the circulating pathogens.

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Written by

Anna Ellis

Originally from the UK, Anna is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com.