|© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Spry-Leverton|
|A volunteer, Dr. Ali, vaccinating children at Kashtra camp in Gari Habib-ullah village, the town of Mansehra, Pakistan.|
By Kitty Logan
CHINARI, Pakistan, 22 November 2005 – As winter approaches, poor hygiene conditions and the possible outbreak of disease are threatening the lives of tens of thousands quake survivors in Pakistan’s relief camps. To protect children UNICEF has launched a massive measles immunization campaign – targeting 800,000 children in just two weeks – before snow starts falling and cuts off the remote mountainous regions.
There have been 40 measles cases so far, and the risk of a potential outbreak is high. "Measles kills children, especially in the camps, where a lot of children are malnourished and living under very difficult circumstances. In these crowded areas we see children die quickly from measles. We give measles [vaccine to children] to avoid huge mortality,” explained Dr. Edward Hoekstra, a senior health advisor for UNICEF.
Working along side Pakistan’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, UNICEF has sent out 600 teams all over the affected region, immunizing children against not only measles, but also polio, diphtheria and tetanus. Nearly 60,000 children are vaccinated each day.
Sayed Shah wants his 5-year-old son Junaid to be immunized as soon as possible. “I am worried about him getting polio and other diseases, so I am getting him vaccinated,” he says. It’s a race against time, but reaching children fast in earthquake-ravaged areas is never simple, as frequent landslides continue to block roads. Many times the only way to reach remote villages is on foot. But helicopters are also urgently needed to reach communities high in the mountains.
Nights are already bitterly cold, and getting colder. As the weather worsens, so do the health conditions for many survivors. Young children are especially vulnerable to respiratory illness. To boost their immune systems, the UNICEF-backed immunization teams are also giving vitamin A to children under 5.
“What we want is a good, clean and secure environment. We are very worried about these things. Otherwise they are much more likely to get sick”, says Jamila Bibi, a mother. Her son Imtiaz, 7, survived the earthquake, trapped under the rubble of his school building. But his father was killed, and Imtiaz is still recovering from head injuries
As word of the immunization programme spreads, through local radio stations, people crowd around the teams as soon as they arrive at the camps. It is estimated that before the earthquake only 60 per cent of the region’s children were reached by routine immunization. As of the end of the tenth day of UNICEF’s campaign, some half a million children have been protected.
22 November 2005:
UNICEF Correspondent Kun Li reports on a UNICEF-supported immunization campaign which seeks to protect 800,000 children from preventable diseases, such as measles.
South Asia's quake victims
South Asia Earthquake
‘Child-friendly spaces’ help young survivors [with video]
Girls’ education in the quake zone [with video]
In the earthquake zone, one year later [with video]
‘Eye See’ photo project for young quake survivors [with video]