An international organization that helps low-income countries buy vaccines is going to assist aid agencies to purchase vaccines for children in war-torn Syria.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, announced the program Thursday following a meeting of its board. The special commitment, as Gavi is calling the program, will help aid agencies buy vaccines and equipment to refrigerate vaccines that must be kept cold or frozen.
Much of Syria’s network of refrigerated vaccine storage capacity — what is called in the vaccine delivery world “the cold chain” — has been destroyed in the years of conflict, Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi CEO, said in a tele-conference with reporters.
The Gavi board promised up to $25 million in 2017-18 for Syria. The aid agencies that will administer the vaccines are hoping to immunize 3 million Syrian children under the age of 5.
Prior to the civil war, Syria did not qualify for Gavi assistance, and it’s unclear if it would now. To be eligible, countries must have a gross national income per person of $1,580 or lower for three years running, according to the World Bank.
Normally, countries must apply for Gavi support. In this case, that did not happen. The Syrian government did not seek Gavi’s help and was not involved in the decision to extend the aid, Berkley said.
Berkley explained the aid groups working in Syria have been concerned about plummeting vaccination rates there and the growing risk that poses of disease epidemics. Syria has experienced outbreaks of polio, measles, and meningitis during this protracted conflict.
Coverage for basic vaccines stood at 41 percent in the country in 2015, down from 80 percent before the conflict began, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the UN children’s fund. The result is that the country is at high risk of disease epidemics; it has experienced recent outbreaks of polio, measles, and meningitis.
“Syria now has the fourth lowest child vaccination rate in the world,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, Gavi’s CEO. “We must ensure that vaccines reach children in Syria. This tragedy must not be further compounded by the needless loss of lives due to infectious diseases.”
Vaccines that will be purchased with the Gavi support offer protection against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b, polio, measles, and rubella.