MUZAFFARABAD, 16 November 2005 - In an extensive and accelerated campaign UNICEF is working with WHO and the Ministry of Health targeting 800,000 children under 15 years of age for immunization against measles. The two week long campaign will cover the whole of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PAK) with a focus on the remote valleys where access remains difficult.
In the days immediately following the earthquake of October 8 the immunization of a 4 million target group of children was announced as a priority by the government, UN partners and the NGOs working together to address the health and survival concerns in the aftermath. Due to the devastation of the health infrastructure in key cities in the area the Department of Health had lost almost all its health facilities and as a result, there was only very limited capacity to vaccinate children.
The immunization campaign to date has given priority to internally displaced children living in the various camps in all three very badly affected districts of PAK. In the first month following the disaster 50,000 under-15 children were immunized against measles in the affected areas.
Last week, UNICEF, in close cooperation with the government of PAK, decided to go to scale and to go out with mobile teams to previously unreached areas. Accordingly, a campaign targeting all 800,000 under-15 children was launched on November 12.
In conjunction with the UNICEF provision of cold chain materials and support to the coordinated effort partners such as WHO, NGOs, Canada and the US army have provided technical assistance and vaccinators to the campaign.
The campaign involves deploying 582 teams of vaccinators. Some are travelling by road to some areas and then proceeding on foot to villages, while others are being helicopter-airlifted by the Pakistan military into the mountains and will then walk on from settlement to settlement.
At the end of the campaign’s fourth day estimates are that teams working in Muzaffarabad and the remote valleys have reached and vaccinated some 150,000 children.
“We can have a major impact on child mortality in this disaster situation, in which children’s immune systems are under stress due to chronic undernutrition in many cases, and to trauma from the earthquake and the upheavals that have followed. We can also start revitalizing EPI (the Extended Programme on Immunization) for routine immunization by successfully completing the measles campaign over these next two weeks”, said Dr. Claudia Hudspeth, UNICEF Emergency Coordinator in Muzaffarabad, noting “It is unacceptable that children die from measles when there is a fully effective, cheap and very safe vaccine available.”
Measles can be prevented with a single injectable dose of vaccine. It is cheap. The total cost of immunizing a child is barely US $1. In an emergency situation, measles needs to be addressed as the single highest health priority for children. In previous emergencies up to 25 percent of under-5 children who died, died from measles.
Pakistan administered Kashmir has been polio-free for the last four years; nevertheless an extra dose of oral polio vaccine (OPV) is also being given to all under-5 children. A dose of vitamin-A has also been added as this can reduce under-5 child mortality, from all causes including respiratory infection, by 23 per cent, and from measles by up to 50 percent. With the upcoming winter all children, especially those living in tents in the relief camps, where conditions are difficult, crowded and draughty, are at high risk of contracting respiratory infection.
For further information please contact:
Julia Spry-Leverton: 0300-500-2595
Sami Malik: 0300-855-6654
Javier Marroquin: 0300- 856-0113 (Mansehra)
Shamsuddin Ahmad: 0300-856-0081(Muzaffarabad)
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