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WHO: More Children in Syria Being Immunized Against Killer Diseases

FILE - A health worker administers a polio vaccination dose to a child in Raqqa, Syria, Nov.18, 2013.

The World Health Organization says efforts are moving ahead to establish routine programs to vaccinate children against killer diseases in conflict-ridden Syria.

Before the country’s civil war erupted in 2011, immunization coverage for children against killer diseases stood at nearly 100 percent; but routine programs against vaccine-preventable illnesses have all but collapsed during the years of conflict.

Several months ago, the World Health Organization helped re-start routine immunization programs in northwest Syria. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier says more than 35 centers in the areas of Idlib and Hama now offer vaccinations.

“During the years of the crisis, the parents in these areas of northern Syria who wanted their children to be vaccinated often had nowhere to go. Basic vaccines were not always available, and clinics and hospitals in some areas could not offer immunization or were even destroyed as you know.”

Lindmeier tells VOA it is hard to know how many children may have died because they were not immunized against measles, mumps, tuberculosis, polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Records of immunization have been lost in many cases. People have been fleeing, have been displaced. So, it is very difficult to have figures on how many children would have died or suffered from low immunization.”

Lindmeier says the WHO and partners are planning to re-establish routine vaccination programs in dozens more centers in northwest Syria by the end of the year. In the meantime, he says the WHO is coordinating a mobilization campaign to encourage parents to take their children to the centers that have re-opened.