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Measles epidemic fear for earthquake survivors

The Scotsman | October 12, 2005

The United Nations has warned that a measles epidemic could hit the survivors of the earthquake that devastated Kashmir killing an estimated 35,000 people.

According the World Health Organisation (WHO), at least ninety per cent of the population must be immunised to prevent an epidemic of measles, which can be fatal to children. Only sixty percent of children in the region are believed to have been immunised against the disease.

Jan Vandemoortele, UN Resident Co-ordinator for Pakistan, said there have been no reports of epidemics so far but the area’s health infrastructure has collapsed.

"We have to resuscitate the entire health system," he said.

The WHO has set up three field hospitals in Muzaffarabad and Bagh in Kashmir, and another in the northern town of Mansehra. Three more would be ready by the end of the day. In one clinic alone, 2,000 patients have been treated, 400 of them children, most of them suffering from broken arms or legs.

Officials say that it is too early for an epidemic to occur but they are aware of the potential threat. The quake has damaged sanitation systems, destroyed hospitals and left many victims with no access to clean drinking water, making them more vulnerable to disease.

Fadela Chaib, a WHO spokeswoman in Geneva said: "Measles could potentially become a serious problem. We fear that if people huddle closely together in temporary shelters and crowded conditions, more measles cases could occur."

The death toll from the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that devastated the Himalayan region of Kashmir on Saturday is believed to have reached more than 35,000. The United Nations estimates that the earthquake affected some 4 million people, including 2 million made homeless as whole villages were demolished.

Anger has been growing at the Pakistani government’s response among the survivors, some of whom have been waiting for four days without receiving any aid. The Pakistani government has said that the damage caused by the earthquake made it difficult to get relief to those affected but the logistical problem seems to be easing according to the UN.

UN Co-ordinator Jan Vandemoortle said: "Relief material is moving in. It is getting there. Roads are open now. They were blocked until very recently. We have several trucks that are all loaded and on the road now."

The WHO is understood to be gathering essentials for a mass immunisation programme against measles.


Last modified October 14, 2005





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