Geneva, 9 February 2018 — The medical and humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontierès (MSF) has undertaken an emergency vaccination campaign against measles for the migrant and refugee children stranded on Lesvos Island. In two days, MSF teams vaccinated a total of 975 children living in the camps of Moria and Kara Tepe and other alternative shelters in the city of Mytilini.
This campaign was launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP – KEELPNO) in response to 4 cases confirmed by laboratory (with 2 more likely cases awaiting confirmation) amongst the children population of Moria and Kara Tepe.
“Among the migrants and refugees stranded in Lesvos, our teams see many families with children. These kids deserve to be protected and vaccinated against common diseases”, says Sophie Sabatier, MSF emergency project coordinator. “Many families in Moria are still living in overcrowded containers and small tents. In these conditions, all unvaccinated children were in danger of getting sick and we needed to move as fast as possible as to contain the spread of the disease.”
Throughout last year, KEELPNO has been reporting on measles cases in different parts of the country among the unvaccinated populations. These recent measles cases in Lesvos are the first cases reported amongst the asylum seeking population. MSF, which has a long experience in undertaking emergency vaccination campaigns in many countries around the world, has managed to obtain quickly the required number of vaccines (2.576 MMR vaccines) and took the lead in organizing the campaign, in support to health authorities.
MSF teams started to vaccinate children on Wednesday 7th of February in the MSF pediatric mobile clinic outside Moria and in Kara Tepe. On the second day, MSF vaccinated unaccompanied minors and children living in alternative shelters in the city of Mytilini. In total, MSF teams vaccinated 975 children between the age of six months and 16 years, while medical teams of KEELPNO and MDM, who also contributed to the campaign, vaccinated 60 and 190 children. In total, 1,314 children were vaccinated during this campaign.
“Refugee and migrant families continue to arrive on the island and as long as families in the camps continue to live in harsh conditions inside overcrowded containers, we believe that the best possible way to prevent outbreaks in the future and contribute to children’s health, is to improve the living conditions and vaccinate all children when they arrive on the island,” says Sabatier. “These people should not be contained on these ill-adapted islands. As long as they are here, they should at least have access to adequate medical assistance and to better living conditions.
MSF operates a clinic in the town of Mytilini focusing on the medical and mental health needs of survivors of torture and sexual violence, as well as people with severe mental health conditions. In late November 2017, MSF launched an emergency intervention to improve the living conditions and the access to medical care for the asylum seekers/migrants on Lesvos over the upcoming tough winter months. The clinic set up close to Moria camp is offering primary healthcare for children under 16 years old, as well as ante- and post-natal care for pregnant women and their new-borns.
It is not the first time that MSF carries out a vaccination campaign in Greece. During 2016 and 2017, MSF carried out emergency vaccination campaigns in camps in Attica, Central Greece, Northern Greece and on the islands of Samos and Lesvos. A total of 10.500 children aged between six weeks and 15 years were vaccinated against a number of 10 diseases across Greece by MSF.
All photographs by Julia Kourafa