As UNICEF UK launches an urgent appeal for funds for children of Syria this week, a major emergency vaccination campaign is under way in the war-torn country to protect young children against measles and polio.

Despite significant challenges including road blocks and ongoing fighting in many parts of the country, vital vaccine supplies have been delivered where they were needed and vaccination teams are now working hard to reach the target of 1.4 million children.

Measles and polio are diseases that can spread rapidly – sometimes with fatal results - in times of conflict when people live in crowded conditions, so the main focus of the campaign has been children who have been forced to flee their homes and are living in temporary shelters around the country.

“The toughest job has been for the drivers who have had to collect supplies in Damascus and then deliver them, often by circuitous routes, to campaign workers across the country,” said Iman Bahnasi, Child Survival and Development specialist with UNICEF Syria. “But thanks to their determination and courage, all regions have received the supplies they need.”

Data received so far show that since the campaign started on 26 November, more than 630,000 children aged under five have already received polio drops, while over 510,000 children aged 1 to 5 years have been vaccinated against measles. Children are also receiving a dose of Vitamin A, which contributes to reducing acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea.

A mixture of TV coverage, text messages and health education sessions has helped encourage parents to bring their children for vaccination. Actual numbers of children reached are expected to be significantly higher, but data has not been received from all regions due to the security situation.

UNICEF has provided 1.5 million doses of measles vaccine, along with supplies of syringes, cold chain equipment, safety boxes, vaccination cards, registration sheets and communication materials. This support has continued despite the withdrawal of a number of UN international staff from Syria last week.

UNICEF is working alongside the World Health Organisation, the Ministry of Health and several non-governmental organisations, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, to vaccinate as many children as possible.

“The numbers of children vaccinated so far are very encouraging given the significant challenges that UNICEF and its partners have been facing on the ground,” said David Bull, Executive Director of UNICEF UK.

“Now, as temperatures are plummeting, UNICEF is also extremely concerned about the impact that the cold winter will have on children’s health. More than half a million Syrian children have been forced to flee their homes and are now living in temporary shelters or camps. Our teams are working round the clock to provide warm clothing and blankets for children in Syria and those who have fled to neighbouring countries, but we urgently need more funds.”

To donate £3 to help keep a Syrian child warm this winter, text WARM to 85010 or visit www.unicef.org.uk

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Note to editors:

UNICEF staff in Syria are available for media interviews. Photos of the vaccination campaign in Syria are also available on the following link: http://wikisend.com/download/603636/Syria%20vaccination%202012%20for%20media.zip.

For more information, please contact:

Ju-Lin Tan, UNICEF UK, 020 7375 6030, 07814 549 071, julint@unicef.org.uk

About UNICEF

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org.uk