Pakistan

Pakistan earthquake: UNICEF renews its fight against measles

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Pakistan 2005/Asad Zaidi
Less than a week after the quake this young girl was brought by her father for immunization to a vaccination point set up at the Abbas Hospital in Muzaffarabad. UNICEF supplied this health worker’s refrigerated vaccine carrier to preserve the vaccine’s potency against Pakistan’s intense autumn sunlight.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, USA, 7 December 2005 – As the harsh Himalayan winter looms in quake-affected Pakistan, UNICEF is fighting both disease and plummeting temperatures. 

UNICEF is intensifying its ongoing battle against measles outbreaks throughout Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The region has now seen half a million children vaccinated against the disease, with nearly 200,000 under-5s receiving vitamin A supplementation as well. An extra dose of oral polio vaccine was also administered to all under-5 children. This comes after UNICEF’s November 12 launch of a two-week vaccination campaign in the region. It focused on children living in remote communities high up in the valleys where access remains difficult – and the threat of their being closed down entirely by winter snowfalls increases with every passing day.

To date 14 cases of measles have been reported in one small tent camp near Muzaffarabad, underlying the necessity to continue the vaccination efforts. The congested camps in Muzaffarabad are a particular cause of concern, as crowding, inadequate sanitation and poor conditions in general in these ‘spontaneous’ camps all impact negatively on children’s health, already weakened by chronic under-nutrition and quake-caused trauma.

Dr. Mirza Imran Raza, who is responsible for UNICEF’s measles campaign, says the reported cases do not represent a widespread outbreak of the viral disease. “So far we have received only these 14 cases reported from one of the small camps, which was missed during the campaign. But the WHO is getting weekly survey reports from all other areas and we have not received any measles cases from any other place so far.”

Further ‘mop up’ activities in these camps are being put in place to reach the remaining children not yet vaccinated, along with renewed measures for outlying communities. The establishment of fixed vaccination points for immunization in field hospitals and basic health units in both urban and rural locations will help achieve comprehensive coverage for all. UNICEF support has focused on vaccine procurement, cold chain management and the provision of vaccine carriers and syringes.

UNICEF concerned about deteriorating weather conditions

As UNICEF enhances its immunization efforts to protect children living in tent camps, the agency is also taking measures to protect children and their families from falling temperatures. With the approach of winter UN agencies and their partners have been coordinating the construction of prefabricated accommodation. Most earthquake survivors are now living in tent camps not designed to withstand the harsh winter conditions of the Himalayas.

“Our immediate concern is the shelters: the water and sanitation situation and the winterisation of the tents,” says Dr. Imran Raza. “UNICEF, along with other agencies, plans to bring about 60 pre-fabs for the health facilities in and around Kashmir, to be installed by mid January, and bring all the facilities and medical supplies [necessary] for 300,000 people over a period of three months.”

A recent fire in a tent housing earthquake survivors has also raised additional fears and concerns, especially as the cold weather sets in. “To prevent further similar incidents, the UNHCR and IOM are working to help other agencies to bring a type of stove safe to use inside the tents,” says Dr. Imran Raza. “But in the meantime, everyone is concerned that, with the coming winter, there may be other incidents like this.” 

More resources are needed to sustain and expand relief efforts. The UNICEF emergency appeal has currently received only 64 per cent of the total amount needed for the recovery effort, which is $93 million.


 

 

Audio

7 December 2005:
UNICEF Health Officer Dr. Mirza Imran Raza describes his team's efforts to immunize children against measles and to prepare the tent camps for winter.

7 December 2005:
Fifteen-year old Omama Faroog, who lives in Muzafarrabad, describes her experiences during October's massive earthquake in Pakistan and life after the quake.

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