Denying Syria’s children access to vaccines is a war crime

Orient Net - Ruthanne Sikora 2017-03-06 05:00:00

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As a result of the siege imposed on East Ghouta by the Assad regime for the past four years, there has been a marked increase in the number of measles cases among children in the area. 

East Ghouta medical centers are incapable of providing full treatment for pediatric patients due to limited resources and a shortage of medications and supplies which have run out because of the lengthy duration of the siege.

Dr. Abu Younis, a general practitioner treating children because of the lack of pediatric specialists, says “The most vulnerable to the disease are children less than six years old, about 20 children infected with measles arrived at the center during February." 

“The number of casualties continues to increase due to the lack of public vaccinations, especially the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) triple vaccine which should be given to children at one and four years of age,” he added.

The doctor also warned of the potential for a "health catastrophe for children as a result of the Assad regime preventing any vaccinations from entering the area." 

In addition to denying the children of East Ghouta access to routine vaccinations and medications such as antibiotics necessary for treating childhood illnesses, the blockade imposed by the regime four years ago has also resulted in a shortage of fruits and vegetables containing vitamin A which limits susceptibility to measles.  

Dr. Abu Younis also said that medical centers in East Ghouta have been reduced to using nothing but antipyretics for reducing fevers and antihistamines in the treatment of patients.

He also warned that the risk from being infected with measles is greater for pregnant women as it may lead to birth defects in the developing fetus.

Abu Abdullah, director of Pulse Medical Center said; “With our limited capabilities we are unable to provide full treatment for the pediatric patients because of the negligence of supporting organizations in meeting the needs of small health centers."

Abu Abdullah is calling upon UNICEF and WHO to put pressure on the Assad regime to allow the delivery of vaccines to the children of East Ghouta and to reevaluate the lack of support for small health centers that receive about 70 patients a day; mainly women and children.

Activists in the area launched a #LifeVaccines campaign on social media in February aimed at bringing international attention to the dire situation being faced by children who make up more than 40 % of the population of East Ghouta.

There is no doubt that the prevention of vaccines from reaching areas under siege is being deliberately used as another  weapon of war by the Assad regime which has made no effort to hide the fact that they have been targeting children in the liberated areas of Syria.

Back in October 2013, the first case of polio to arise in Syria in 14 years was diagnosed in the southern city of Deir Azzor. 

The prevention of life-saving vaccinations and antibiotics caused by the conflict, along with poor nutrition in the besieged areas, undoubtedly contributed to the reemergence and spread of the disease. 

Within six months, 36 children across five Syrian provinces were left paralyzed from polio according to WHO.

Large-scale efforts to control the disease were successfully launched by WHO at that time and an epidemic was averted.

But efforts to reach the children of East Ghouta have been blocked by the Assad regime and the threat of polio and other illnesses such as smallpox and whooping cough returning to the area, in addition to the current cases of measles, is real.

A campaign in Arabic that translates as "It’s my right to be vaccinated" was also launched by “The Unified Revolutionary Medical Bureau in East Ghouta (URMBEG).

On February 3, URMBEG and the Syrian interim government’s Health Directorate of Damascus and Rural Damascus issued a joint statement drawing attention to the critical situation being caused by missed childhood vaccines and the growing threat of a large scale epidemic of what were once preventable diseases.

The statement was directed at the World Health Organization, the United Nations and other international bodies calling for them to put pressure on the Assad regime to allow secure entry of preventive vaccines for children in East Ghouta that used to be routinely administered to all Syrian children.

Ward Mardini, a local journalist in the area, told Al Jazeera in February that the regime’s Ministry of Health and WHO are the only bodies authorized to receive and allocate the vaccinations.

"The transfer of these vaccinations into the besieged areas of al-Ghouta are strictly limited to internationally-recognized bodies, which in this case would be the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), operated by the regime,” Mardini added.

Unfortunately Assad has no incentive for allowing vaccines to be administered to children living in besieged areas for he views them all as “terrorists” and the doctors who treat them as supporters of terrorism.

Recently it was learned that Dr. Mahmoud Satu, a pediatrician from east Aleppo, was sentenced to death for feeding as well as treating wounded children and publicly executed for his supposed crimes against the regime.