Managing health volunteers to conduct immunizations district by district, so that all children in Za’atari camp have access to polio vaccinations.
Following a seventh polio vaccination campaign, UNHCR reports that 96 percent of girls and 99 percent of boys under age 5 in the Za’atari refugee camp have received polio vaccinations. In just five days, our health team passed their goal of immunizing the 16,000 children throughout the camp.
Due to outbreaks of the devastating disease worldwide, the World Health Organization declared polio a public health emergency in May 2014. Recent cases have occurred in Syria and Iraq, heightening the risk of regional outbreaks. The Community Health team conducts camp-wide immunization rounds every three months. Since 2013, they have conducted seven polio vaccination campaigns, vaccinating a total of 107,619 Syrian children in Za’atari.
Reaching out to the Za’atari community to spread awareness, assess the need, and administer the immunizations is a complicated logistical task. With support from UNHCR, UNICEF, and the Ministry of Health, the team of 120 Syrian community health workers, all doctors and nurses, spread out to the 12 camp districts. The team disseminated information in advance about the campaign, including logistical information as well as education messages about the danger of polio and the need for immunization.
Fouzeh, 33, said that before the campaign she didn’t know what polio was. Her daughter, Berda, was born in the camp just five months ago. As she rocks Berda gently in her arms, she admits that having a newborn child is difficult as a refugee, but the health team’s services lessen her load.
To reach all children, the Community Health Team methodologically maps the camp and makes sure that the health workers go door to door so that all children in Za’atari can be reached. As the teams conduct what can be a life-changing two-minute procedure, they also collect and record information on families’ immunizations records.
The polio vaccination campaign parallels the Community Health Health teams’ daily duties of assessing the medical needs of refugees and referring their cases to health services in the camp. On a weekly basis, the health team averages 350 home visits and 150 immunization referrals.
Working alongside our professional health leaders, the team of 120 Syrian community health workers is the heart of effective change in the camp. We never work alone, but rather we mobilize the local community to actively engage in the aid response for long-lasting solutions. With Syrian doctors and nurses forming the backbone of the Community Health Team, we continue to ensure the health needs of all refugees are met.
The Outreach Services for Syrian & Iraqi Refugees project is funded by UNHCR and managed by IRD.