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Pakistan Quake: UNICEF supplies New Emergency Health Kits ahead of winter

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Rysberg
Ifrat, 2, has been diagnosed as malnourished, anaemic and suffering from respiratory problems. His father has brought him to a UNICEF-supported health facility in the tented camp at Thuri Park, Muzaffarabad.

By Julia Spry-Leverton

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, 2 December 2005 – With the northern Pakistan winter weather beginning to bite and thousands of earthquake survivors living in tented camps, UNICEF is helping healthcare workers here fight the threat of freezing temperatures and disease for children and women by providing emergency health supplies.

An individual pack – or ‘New Emergency Health Kit’ (NEHK) – contains all the drugs, medical supplies and equipment necessary to cater for the health needs of 10,000 people for three months. So far 60 packs have been distributed in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Dr. Tamur Mueeneddin, UNICEF Project Officer, Health, notes, “With these NEHKs delivered we now have in place enough drugs and medical equipment to take 600,000 people – half of them children – through the health problems the winter ahead of us will bring.”

The kits are a life-saving intervention in situations such as the aftermath of Pakistan’s earthquake. Health facilities here have been totally destroyed and – particularly at this time of year, with heavy rain and the promise of snow soon – it is vital to have equipped healthcare facilities close at hand.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Rysberg
An earthquake survivor receives medication for a young child at a UNICEF-supported Basic Health Unit in Muzaffarabad.

Basic Health Units treat 100-150 people daily

In Muzaffarabad, a so-called ‘Basic Health Unit’ (BHU) has been set up in the tented camp at Thuri Park, one of the town’s two official camps. On the bank of the Jhelum river and set against an austere backdrop of its steep valley walls, the sprawling camp houses 1,500 people – 285 families. The UNICEF-supported site has a staff of 16 treating 100-150 people daily.

The most common health complaints here are acute respiratory infections, gastroenteritis and skin diseases. Civil Medical Officer Dr. Syed Zakir says, “In a massive disaster like the one we are facing here it is difficult to cope with all the demand, but medicine like the antibiotics and the syrup for coughs provided in the UNICEF kit has helped a lot. The health of people living in this camp has improved.”

There is concern though that the winter conditions may bring a downturn, particularly for small children most vulnerable to viral infections. Reports are already indicating that cases of pneumonia are on the increase. In Thuri Park all children under 15 (760 in total) have have received vitamin A supplementation and been immunized against measles. Both are essential in helping children fight the infections.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Rysberg
A woman with her baby after visiting a Basic Health Unit in a tented camp for people left homeless after the earthquake in Muzaffarabad. UNICEF is supplying New Emergency Health Kits to the region ahead of winter.

Malnourishment and anaemia amongst pregnant women

Female health workers are in charge of the care and supervision of the camp’s 27 pregnant women. Even before the earthquake this area had some of the country’s worst indicators for health, nutrition and maternal mortality.

Nazima is 20 years old and pregnant with her first child, and has been diagnosed as anaemic. Most pregnant women in the camp have anaemia and are malnourished. Nazima looks at the brown bottle with a brightly coloured label that she holds and says, “I lived in a remote area in the mountains – I never received a check-up before. The first time the health worker came to my tent I was so busy looking for relief items on other side of the camp, I missed her. But my neighbours told me to come and find her here and I did – now I am getting some vitamins.”

Another 80 emergency health kits are on order for distribution within the areas affected by the earthquake emergency, not just in camps, but in urban and rural locations too. As rebuilding of health facilities such as clinics and Basic Health Units takes place, UNICEF working collaboratively with the Ministry of Health and NGO partners, the NEHK ‘s role remains a vital front line one in rebuilding the country’s shattered health system.

Irene Sanchez contributed field research to this story.



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