The Syrian government and the country’s last rebel-controlled enclave received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines Thursday.
In a joint statement, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the GAVI vaccine alliance announced the delivery of 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Syria’s government and another 53,800 to the opposition-held area in the northwest.
“The delivery is a ray of light for the people of Syria,” the statement said. “It will help health workers to continue delivering life-saving services in an already exhausted health system as a result of the decade-long war.”
Although fighting has largely subsided since the March 2020 cease-fire, Syria’s civil war has complicated the delivery of the vaccines, forcing most of them to be shipped through Damascus for government-controlled areas while the rest are routed through the border with Turkey.
Western non-governmental organizations have said that Syria’s logistical challenges of coordinating vaccinations in combat zones are worsened by the international financial sanctions that have been imposed on the country.
The Middle Eastern country experienced a surge in coronavirus infections in February after being hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic last year.
The Syrian government reported 51,580 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, but U.N. officials say the number is probably higher due to the limited number of testing kits.