Douma surgeon: Lack of immunization ‘catastrophic’ problem

February 11, 2016

The Unified Medical Office in East Ghouta launched the “It is my Right to be Vaccinated” media campaign on Monday to demand that the regime allow international aid organizations to deliver vaccines to rebel-controlled areas east of Damascus city amidst an outbreak of preventable diseases.

“Our vaccines are a right, not a request,” reads a sign held by elementary students in pictures posted by the Bureau of Education in the Damascus Countryside the following day.

 Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Education in the Damascus Countryside.

The three-year regime blockade of rebel-controlled East Ghouta has prevented vaccine deliveries and disrupted immunization efforts, leaving an estimated 41,000 children unvaccinated polio, hepatitis A and tuberculosis, Khalid, a surgeon in Douma and member of the Unified Medical Office, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali.

Unlike food and weapons, vaccines are not available on the black market,

says Khalid, who asked to be identified by only his first name. “Vaccines are a product distributed by government organizations and you can’t just buy them on the black market.” Even if that were possible, the surgeon says, “there is also the problem of transporting them: You can’t ensure that the vaccines stay at a refrigerated temperature.”

Q: Are people in Ghouta contracting diseases that otherwise would be preventable with vaccines?

Yes, there is an epidemic already from hepatitis A and an increase in the number of cases of tuberculosis. We consider the spread of hepatitis A an epidemic because the disease has spread over a large swathe of East Ghouta.

There is also an outbreak of polio affecting children. If this isn’t dealt with as soon as possible, these diseases will spread out of control. The results of the vaccine shortage are catastrophic and get worse every day

Q: Why is there a shortage of vaccinations in East Ghouta?

Vaccinations usually are provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and distributed to health centers by the Ministry of Health. But the three-year blockade imposed on East Ghouta prevents any sort of medicine from getting in. Even some personal medication has been confiscated from sick people at the security checkpoints.

After the start of the blockade, the Red Crescent got some of the needed vaccinations in, but the last delivery was on July 23, 2015. The number of vaccinations delivered was only enough for 20 percent of the children under the age of two. There are approximately 12,500 children under the age of two in East Ghouta.

Q: What do the people say about the lack of immunization in Douma?

Unfortunately residents here are furious with the international aid organizations such as the Red Crescent and the Red Cross and the WHO that haven’t been able to deliver vaccines to them.

Q: There are ways that the rebels in Douma have to smuggle in foodstuffs, weapons and ammunitions to the blockaded areas. Have there been attempts to smuggle in vaccines also?

Vaccines are a product distributed by government organizations and you can’t just buy them on the black market. There is also the problem of transporting them: You can’t ensure that the vaccines stay at a refrigerated temperature.

Q: What are the biggest problems medical teams still working in East Ghouta face?

The biggest problems that medical teams face is the targeting of medical centers and ambulances while they are working and the severe lack of necessary medical supplies such as dialysis rounds, vaccines, tuberculosis medication and parts for medical equipment. Also, electricity was cut off at the beginning of the blockade, so we rely on electrical generators to power the medical centers. We haven’t been able to use solar panels because of the intensity of the bombardment.

The targeting of medical services is a strategic move by the regime. Evidence of this is that they have prevented the entrance of medicine and everything related to the medical field since November 2012, including personal medication that sick individuals might have on them during security searches [at the regime checkpoints].

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