In a March 31 interview with Al-Monitor, Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said that the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have managed to make progress against an outbreak of polio in Syria, but added, “What we are seeing with the coming of warm weather is the possibility of measles outbreaks.”
By mid-June, both measles outbreaks and vaccination campaigns were underway.
People living in northern Syria largely depend on a patchwork of U.N. agencies and NGOs to provide essential medical services after an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad turned into a civil war. The three-and-a-half year conflict has left some 10.8 million people in need of urgent aid, with around 4.7 million people in areas that are hard to reach.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent Idleb branch sent a humanitarian aid convoy consisting of 25 trucks loaded with food parcels and hygiene kits and other relief materials to Northern Rural Idleb (al-Qah – Atmah) in coordination with all parties on the ground.
The convoy consisted of food parcels, hygiene kits in addition to water purification materials and children medicines with a support from the UNICEF, UNHCR and WFP. The distribution of these material continues in eleven camps accommodate around 2552 families with the supervising of SARC Idleb branch volunteers.
The "children medicines" included measles vaccines.
On September 16, 2014, tragedy struck. A number of children died immediately following vaccination. There was widespread speculation, but the cause turned out to be human error.
WHO, September 27, 2014: Statement regarding interim findings of WHO assessment of deaths of children in Idleb Governorate, Syria
A WHO assessment of the cause of the death of 15 children in rural Idleb, northern Syria has concluded that the most likely cause of the event was the incorrect use of a drug called Atracurium as a diluent for Measles/Rubella vaccine.
There is no evidence that the Measles/Rubella vaccine itself or its correct diluent were the cause of this tragic event.
Measles vaccine has to be reconstituted with a diluent prior to use. All evidence available to the assessment team indicates that the incorrect use of Atracurium as a diluent was the cause of the deaths. Atracurium is a muscle relaxant and is used mainly as part of the anaesthetic procedure for surgery. The Atracurium ampoules were incorrectly added to vaccination packs prepared in one District Vaccine Distribution Centre in Idleb Governorate and distributed to four vaccination teams on the second day of the measles campaign.
Anyone in the developed world who points to this tragedy as evidence that immunization is "dangerous" should be treated with the utmost contempt.