WHO to launch mass Syria Covid-19 vaccination programme 'within months'

WHO to launch mass Syria Covid-19 vaccination programme 'within months'
The WHO will deploy staff to carry out its Covid-19 vaccination programme in Syria as early as April.
2 min read
04 February, 2021
Syria's conflict has entered its 11th year [Getty]
The World Health Organisation (WHO) plans to carry out a mass coronavirus vaccination programme across Syria as soon as April, the body said on Wednesday, despite conflict and instablity still dominating the country.

Dr Akjemal Magtymova, WHO representative in Damascus, said the organisation's COVAX programme plans to vaccinate 5 million Syrians, which adds up to 20 percent of the pre-war population, across all parts of the country, where was is approaching its 11th year.

"We are preparing our vaccine deployment plan with the ministry of health to make sure the programme goes well," Magtymova said, adding the priority was first to vaccinate high-risk health workers, social workers, and Syria's most vulnerable.

Most Syrians live in areas now under regime control, but rebels still control much of the northwest and a Kurdish-led administration governs much of the northeast. Around a quarter of the population inside Syria is displaced, many in camps.

The GAVI Alliance, a group that co-leads the COVAX programme, said last week it aimed to deliver 2.3 billion vaccines worldwide by the end of 2021, including 1.8 billion free doses to lower-income countries.

"I am really hopeful it will (begin) in April but it might take even longer depending on so many factors," Magtymova told Reuters in a phone interview from Damascus, of the plan to roll out the vaccine programme in Syria.

"We have to juggle with so many unknowns."

Like other countries that are awaiting vaccines through COVAX, Syria can also obtain supplies directly from companies. But so far it has yet to announce any such bilateral agreements. Health officials say Damascus has been engaged in talks with Russia and China over vaccine supplies.

The Syrian war began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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