Doctors of the World makes children cry with vaccinations at Greek refugee camps
The children entered came in happy and smiling, and within moments emerged crying – albeit with a lollipop and stickers – yet Doctors of the World aid workers in Greece were happy. Because the teams at three refugee camps in Northern Greece had carried out successful Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccinations for hundreds of young people.
Starting on Tuesday 12 July, Doctors of the World in Greece – working with the Greek government – has been vaccinating youngsters aged 1-15. By the programme’s last day, on Thursday this week (21 July), they hope to have inoculated more than 880 children at Lagadikia, Oreokastro and Diavata refugee camps.
At Oreokastro, where the vaccinations took place on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 July, parents and children were queueing for the jabs by 9am, more than an hour before ‘doors’ were set to open at the temporary inoculation tent.
Korina Kanistra, DotW’s Field Co-ordinator of Oreokastro and nearby Diavata camp, explained: ‘It’s important. It gives these children the possibility of better health, to protect them from disease. It’s a hope for their health, for a better quality of life for the future.’
The vaccinations – provided to DotW in Greece by the Greek government, offer more immediate health benefits, too.
At Oreokastro, 1,415 people – including 400 children, 180 of whom had not received MMR jabs before Friday – live in crowded conditions in tents erected in an abandoned warehouse.
An outbreak among the children there could potentially have spread fast, and would have been extremely difficult to have controlled.
The programme is likely to have positive impacts in the wider Greek community, too, as Korina explained: ‘People in my circle of friends worry about public health and the impact of refugees on it. These vaccinations make refugees healthier and give them a good start, and also help reverse some negative perceptions which some Greek people might have. These children are likely to be here in Greece for at least 1-2 years. So Greek parents can be assured that the children their sons and daughters are at school with pose no risk – they have the same health protections and vaccinations as everyone else here in Greece.’
At Lagadikia, a smaller, open-air camp also close to Thessaloniki, with 861 residents, 250 children, the DotW team vaccinated 201 children.
Field Co-ordinator Eva Tatsidou said: ‘The children came dressed in their best clothes, their hair and teeth all brushed and clean. Everyone treated it as an occasion. I think it has helped build a bond of trust between our team and the parents. None of them wants to be here in a camp, but this proves we are here for them, and for as long as they need us. We provide more than just a paracetamol and this has helped to prove it.’
Back at Oreokastro, the first person to be vaccinated is 18-month-old Ethnaia. Unlike most of the children injected today, she did not cry.
Her father Hassan said: ‘She didn’t cry. She is a brave and good girl and we are very proud of her. I am very pleased that despite everything, we have been able to have her vaccinated. ‘
Hassan and Ethnaia are from Syria and, with her mother, have been in Greece since February this year. He is waiting, he says, to see what will happen next: ‘We cannot sleep here,’ he says, ‘It is enclosed, noisy and hot. We are just waiting. We don’t know for what. We want to be able to live our lives again.’
Ethnaia, black hair tied with a pink bobble, looks up and smiles: ‘She is a good girl,’ Hassan says. ‘She did not cry.’
· The vaccinations – all for MMR – took place from Tuesday 12 July and end on Thursday 21 July.
· At Lagadikia, 202 of 316 children received the vaccinations, at Oreokastro 136 of 480 children, and at Diavata more than 420 of 546 children (vaccination ongoing in Diavata until 20/7). Those not vaccinated had previously received the MMR vaccination, and so did not require it.