Medical group in northwest Syria find novel way to promote vaccine drive - football

Medical group in northwest Syria find novel way to promote vaccine drive - football
The month long tournament, organised by the Syria Immunization Group, saw the participation of 32 teams across opposition-held Idlib and Aleppo.
2 min read
12 January, 2024
The football tournament took place in opposition-held areas of Idlib and Aleppo provinces [Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images]

The final whistle of a month-long football tournament in Northwest Syria has been called, aimed at promoting a vaccination drive in opposition areas.

The knock-out tournament organised, by the Syria Immunization Group (SIG), began in December, featuring 250 players from 32 teams from across opposition parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

Before the games kicked off, SIG workers spread the word about the importance of children's and Covid vaccines, in an area where both vaccines and entertainment have been in short supply.

Around 7,000 football fans attended the tournament, supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), which saw matches for young girls and the disabled.

Dr. Yaser Najeeb, Central Technical Committee Manager of SIG, told The New Arab that he believed the tournament had succeeded in spreading awareness about vaccines due to "the diversity of attendees in terms of work, gender, and multiple backgrounds".

Syria's vaccination programme broke down in 2012 due to the civil war, leading to problems for health workers who have struggled to cope due to staff and medicine shortages, along with continued air strikes by the regime and Russia on hospitals and clinics in opposition areas .

SIG was formed in 2017, with help from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), to reestablish a vaccine programme in the country.

Social mobilisation efforts, such as the recent football tournament, are helping health workers overcome challenges that affect people's willingness to accept vaccines.

These include "the unstable security situation, ongoing displacement, changing priorities among people, and the spread of rumours and conspiracy theories".

Without such support in providing vaccines to northwest Syria, "we would have seen health disasters in northwest Syria and the spread of serious diseases", Dr. Najeeb said.

Syria has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011, with at least 500,000 people killed, mostly due to regime and Russian bombing.

Despite a reduction in violence, 2023 was a tumultuous year for Syria, following a deadly earthquake in southern Turkey and northwest Syria in February, which killed tens of thousands of people - mostly on the Turkish side of the border - and destroyed vital infrastructure.

In 2023, over 1,000 civilians were killed in violence, mostly by the Syrian regime and allied forces who have continued to shell opposition areas in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.