Global nonprofit says it will help deliver vaccines to Syrian children

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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.

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.

Because Gavi only works with low-income countries, Syria would not ordinarily qualify for assistance. But the protracted and bloody conflict in that country has disrupted the delivery of standard preventive health care, including childhood vaccinations.

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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.