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Laura Sheahen

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  1. Migration and vaccination: Protecting Syrian refugee children in Turkey “I learned in Syria that vaccinations are important,” says a Syrian refugee mother waiting in the lobby of a clinic in southeastern Turkey. Holding her baby boy, she explains that she is here to have him immunized. “I got the first two rounds of the vaccination at a Turkish hospital and health centre,” says another Syrian mother in her native Arabic. Turkish and Arabic are very different languages and use different alphabets, so Syrian patients and parents can encounter problems understanding when they go to Turkish medical facilities. “It was a little difficult with the language,” she continues. “It’s good that there are Syrian doctors here.” The mothers are at one of Turkey’s clinics for Syrian refugees, staffed by both Turkish doctors and WHO-trained Syrian doctors and nurses who are themselves refugees. Since the brutal conflict in Syria began, 3 million Syrians have poured into neighbouring Turkey. Although the Turkish Ministry of Health has worked hard to provide for their needs, the strain on Turkey’s health system has been immense. In addition, experienced Syrian doctors and nurses had earlier been unable to practice medicine in Turkey due to accreditation issues. With help from WHO, these Syrian health professionals are being screened and then trained to adapt to Turkey’s health care system. When they successfully complete classroom work and six weeks of on-the-job training, they can be employed legally in Turkey’s public clinics and provide care to their fellow refugees. Vaccination is an important part of this care, especially because the conflict caused many Syrian children to miss out on vaccines in their home country. “I remember one child about 3 years old,” says Selam, a Syrian nurse trained as part of the WHO programme. “The parents didn’t want to get the vaccination because of the language barrier.” Refugee children visit a vaccination centre in southeastern Turkey. Photo: WHO/Sheahen “The Turkish government has been encouraging and providing vaccination, but some people didn’t want to,” continues Selam. Immunizing all children in Turkey is urgently important. As the Syrian conflict has decimated vaccination efforts, there have been outbreaks of polio and measles across the border in Syria, just a few hours’ drive away from cities in southeastern Turkey. Now that refugee parents in Turkey can talk to Syrian doctors in their own language at the clinics, there is less confusion and concern. Dr Dalal Kouryani, who escaped Syria with her husband, took the training, which included information on Turkish acronyms for vaccines and the Turkish vaccination schedule. “We like this training because we’re helping Syrians,” she says. The WHO programme also trains bilingual Turkish-Arabic speakers in understanding medical terminology, including words related to immunization. Earlier, “There were lots of translators, but sometimes they can’t bridge the gap, they don’t know the terms,” says Selam. Now, hundreds of WHO-trained Syrian staff have been hired by Turkey’s clinics for refugees. WHO Turkey is also helping to build, equip, and cover operating costs of several refugee health centres where basic primary care, including vaccinations, is free. Arabic-language brochure from Turkey's Ministry of Health about vaccinations for refugee children. WHO also helps Turkey’s Ministry of Health spread the word about vaccination campaigns that specially target refugee children. In 2017, these campaigns reached more than 360 000 refugee children in Turkey to prevent diseases including measles and polio, using the same vaccination schedule used for Turkish children. “With outbreaks of polio and measles in nearby Syria, it’s more important than ever to protect children living in Turkey,” says Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative for WHO Turkey. “The strategy of reaching every child through proper and timely immunization is part of the universal health coverage which the Turkish government offers to all Syrian refugees."
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