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PLoS Curr. 2018 Feb 2;10. pii: ecurrents.dis.bb5f22928e631dff9a80377309381feb. doi: 10.1371/currents.dis.bb5f22928e631dff9a80377309381feb.

Infectious Disease Risk and Vaccination in Northern Syria after 5 Years of Civil War: The MSF Experience.

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Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Operational Centre Amsterdam (OCA), Kobanê, Syria.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Kobanê, Syria; Public Health Department, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Kobanê Health Administration (KHA), Kobanê, Syria.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Kobanê, Syria.
Public Health Department, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Public Health Department, Médecins Sans Frontières, Operational Center Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsMedecins Sans Frontieres, Operational Centre Amsterdam.



In 2015, following an influx of population into Kobanê in northern Syria, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in collaboration with the Kobanê Health Administration (KHA) initiated primary healthcare activities. A vaccination coverage survey and vaccine-preventable disease (VPD) risk analysis were undertaken to clarify the VPD risk and vaccination needs. This was followed by a measles Supplementary Immunization Activity (SIA). We describe the methods and results used for this prioritisation activity around vaccination in Kobanê in 2015.


We implemented a pre-SIA survey in 135 randomly-selected households in Kobanê using a vaccination history questionnaire for all children <5 years. We conducted a VPD Risk Analysis using MSF 'Preventive Vaccination in Humanitarian Emergencies' guidance to prioritize antigens with the highest public health threat for mass vaccination activities. A Measles SIA was then implemented and followed by vaccine coverage survey in 282 randomly-selected households targeting children <5 years.


The pre-SIA survey showed that 168/212 children (79.3%; 95%CI=72.7-84.6%) had received one vaccine or more in their lifetime. Forty-three children (20.3%; 95%CI: 15.1-26.6%) had received all vaccines due by their age; only one was <12 months old and this child had received all vaccinations outside of Syria. The VPD Risk Analysis prioritised measles, Haemophilus Influenza type B (Hib) and Pneumococcus vaccinations. In the measles SIA, 3410 children aged 6-59 months were vaccinated. The use of multiple small vaccination sites to reduce risks associated with crowds in this active conflict setting was noted as a lesson learnt. The post-SIA survey estimated 82% (95%CI: 76.9-85.9%; n=229/280) measles vaccination coverage in children 6-59 months.


As a result of the conflict in Syria, the progressive collapse of the health care system in Kobanê has resulted in low vaccine coverage rates, particularly in younger age groups. The repeated displacements of the population, attacks on health institutions and exodus of healthcare workers, challenge the resumption of routine immunization in this conflict setting and limit the use of SIAs to ensure sustainable immunity to VPDs. We have shown that the risk for several VPDs in Kobanê remains high.


We call on all health actors and the international community to work towards re-establishment of routine immunisation activities as a priority to ensure that children who have had no access to vaccination in the last five years are adequately protected for VPDs as soon as possible.

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