Measles Epidemic in Syria and the Failing Vaccination Program

Syria Measles outbreak

At least 7000 people in Syria are affected with measles by the disrupted vaccination program caused from the ongoing civil war. The immunization program suffered a critical disruption and vaccination coverage for measles has dropped by eighty percent. Young children seem to be worse off by not being able to get the vaccination.

The measles outbreak is spreading throughout the region, as large numbers of Syrians remain displayed by the conflict and living in close quarters. Since March 2011, more than 80,000 people have been killed in the rebellion and millions have taken refuge in neighboring countries. Over four million people in Syria are displaced and mostly children who live in cramped and unsanitary conditions. This unhealthy living can cause the measles outbreak to spread.

The northern part of Syria controlled by rebels has seen the Doctors without Borders (MSF) conducting vaccination programs in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease. A report that more than 75 000 children have been immunized against measles has helped to reduce the risk for many.

The war has made the process of delivering the measles vaccine almost impossible for the partners implementing the program. People try to avoid queues for fear of attracting air and rocket attacks.

The mortality rate associated from the measles outbreak remains low. Coupled with the victims of violence and life threatening complications arising from measles are raising the mortality rate. The preventative measures of vaccinations and the lack of access to basic health care have left people exposed especially young children.

The measles vaccine is a weakened version of the virus itself. The vaccine prepares the body to defend against the measles virus and will not to manifest the disease. The immunity from the measles vaccine usually lasts a lifetime.

Last year, the United Nationals children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners implemented an effective campaign in Syria to stop the measles outbreaks affecting that area. The collapse of supplying regular health services in Syria and providing humanitarian assistance to the millions of people affected by the conflict in that country from the ongoing war left people unprotected from the disease. UNICEF undertakes to ensure that children are protected from the killer disease of measles.

Mass vaccinations campaigns continue throughout Syria and other parts of the world to ensure all children remain protected against the measles disease.

Meanwhile, the war against the vaccine preventable diseases has found a new front, the internet. The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) is caught up in the fight with the publication of an interactive map that claims visual plots of global outbreaks of measles and other diseases that are preventable by inexpensive and effective vaccines.

This does not help the situation in Syria, and as the number of people and more so the children escalate, the measles outbreak remains a daunting aspect for the war-torn country.

Looking at the history of outbreaks throughout the world of the measles problem there is a clear indication that the vaccination program could have prevented the devastating life threatening illness to spread. Yet in other highly immunized places such as Australia, the 1993 outbreak of measles caused the medical authorities to examine the cause of the vaccine immunity. Highly immunized places can still strike the measles outbreak whether or not the vaccine effectiveness is acceptable.

The spread of the measles epidemic in Syria coupled with the failing vaccination program is critical and again the children remain the most vulnerable.

By Laura Oneale


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