With a rising refugee population, a camp at risk of disease
UNICEF Regional Health Advisor Mahendra Sheth visits a UNICEF vaccination campaign in a camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq.
DOMIZ, Iraq, 22 May 2013 – The Domiz refugee camp, which sits about 60 kilometres from the Syrian border amidst an imposing mountain landscape, was originally built to accommodate 22,000 people. Today it is home to around 40,000 Syrian refugees.
I came to the camp to see first-hand the conditions hundreds of families are living in and to see what UNICEF can do to help improve them.
Water, sanitation and hygiene facilities on the site are far from adequate, increasing the risk the camp could become fertile ground for the spread of disease.
In order to prevent the outbreak of measles and other communicable diseases, UNICEF recently stepped up its vaccination campaigns in Domiz and all across the region. By the time of my visit, 19,300 refugees in Domiz from the age of 6 months to 30 years had been vaccinated against measles.
With no end in sight to the Syrian crisis, more and more refugees will cross the borders into neighbouring countries. Many of them will be unimmunized as a result of the breakdown in health services in the Syrian Arab Republic. This not only increases their own risk of infection, but also puts host communities and camp populations at risk, especially the children. Given the high level of vulnerability in Iraq, immunization efforts by UNICEF and its partners across the region are crucial to ensure that children stay safe from deadly diseases.
In terms of basic health services, Iraq has long been among the region’s most problematic cases, with dangerously high rates of neonatal mortality and one of the lowest vaccination coverage rates. The situation is aggravated further by the continued displacement of 1.2 million Iraqi people caused by unrest within the country.
With more than 150,000 Syrian refugees seeking sanctuary in host communities and camps along the border, assistance by international agencies such as UNICEF is needed more than ever. The current vaccination campaign is a good example of how UNICEF is stepping up its efforts to help.