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Press Centre (10/2014)

Turkey increases precautions against polio in Istanbul


@UNICEF/Turkey-2014/Yurtsever
İSTANBUL, Turkey, 21 October 2014 – The old Istanbul district of Fatih, lies on the city’s historical peninsula, and is one of its longest inhabited areas. In among the historical walls, touristic gems like the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque and the Grand Bazaar are interspersed between the cosmopolitan infrastructure. The Syrian refugees are just the latest arrivals in Fatih district and add to the numerous nationalities already here. 

Of the nearly 1.5 million Syrians living in Turkey, many have been drawn to Istanbul’s Fatih immigrant district. Arabic signs, adverts and shops line the streets.

These days, another advert attracts attention on the billboards on the main streets of Fatih. It promotes the “Polio Vaccine Campaign”, runs with the collaboration of UNICEF Turkey and the Ministry of Health between 13th and 19th October. The same advert was also published for free by the country’s most widely read newspapers. The purpose is to make more families aware of the vaccine campaign and encourage them to take their children for vaccination.  It is of critical importance for Turkey, who was certified polio-free by World Health Organization in 2002, to inform its own citizens about the issue. The country has absorbed approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees, many of whom are children who have arrived from regions, which still suffer from this disease.  

This campaign is the main reason for the heavy workload at the family health centers in Fatih, which is one of the six districts in Istanbul selected for this campaign.  Parents, their children and babies wait for their turns in the halls of the centers.

Call for vaccination through SMS

Erol Sabuncu is one of the fathers who took his child for vaccination. “I was asked to take my child for vaccination by an SMS on my phone. We had the second shot today. Actually, I am quite happy about this practice”. All families living in the district have been sent text messages by Fatih Municipality and has already increased participation in the campaign. With no tears, Erol’s 5-year-old daughter Ezel, leaves the center with her vaccination card. 

8-month-old Meryem Kızılay and ten-month-old Ahmet are also vaccinated at the Fatih Imrahor Family Health Center. Meryem’s parents—Tanju and Gvanisa and Ahmet’s mum and dad—Sedat and Esra  Both families said they were reminded about the campaign with the appointments they were given by the centers and the SMSs sent from the municipality and their children had the second dose of the polio vaccination.  

Syrian children are also included in the campaign

On a small backstreet just off the main Fatih thoroughfare, volunteer Syrian doctors and nurses are also busy inoculating children.  On the ground floor of a regular building, the Syrian association has become a focal point for refugees to ensure their children are safeguarded against polio.

One of the mothers waiting in the line is mother-of-two Beyan Nehrabi. The whole family came to Istanbul from Aleppo almost a year ago.  Her two sons—three-year-old Abdurrahman and two-year-old Muhammed had their first dose of the polio vaccination at this center. The brothers had their second dose after visiting the center for routine check-ups. While older brother Abdurrahman took his shot calmly, his little brother was not so happy as he scrunched his face up — he clearly disapproved of the salty taste of the drops.

Two-year-old Iptisam is also from Aleppo. He and his mother Beyan have been living in Istanbul for one and a half years. Iptisam had his first dose of vaccination about four months ago in Istanbul. Dosed up for a second time, the toddler goes back home in his mother’s arms.

 Mobile teams go from door to door

While queues of mothers and fathers line up at health centers, mobile health units go door-to-door. Teams walk the streets with their “Let’s Go Children for Vaccination” t-shirts, branded with UNICEF and Ministry of Health logos, and vaccinate children who are at home and who haven’t had the vaccination yet. Those that aren’t home are left notes inviting them to health centers to have their children vaccinated.  

Officers from Ministry of Health state that there is a great interest in the campaign and they believe that their targets can be achieved. The first vaccination round was held in June and the campaign was organized for the second time in the Istanbul districts of Esenyurt, Fatih, Sancaktepe, Umraniye, Kucukkcekmece and Sultangazi.
 
UNICEF has supported the polio and MMR vaccination campaign, which has been on going since 2013 and covers newly arrived children from other countries, in particular Syria and living in Turkey, given the break in vaccination programmes as a result of the three-year war.


Story and photos by Ayberk Yurtsever
 
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org