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PAKISTAN: Measles takes toll on flood victims

DADU, 24 November 2010 (IRIN) - Kehkashan Bibi, 30, has just returned home with her one-year-old daughter. The child has a few red spots on her body and Kehkashan is afraid she may have measles.

The illness has already claimed 11 lives in Dadu district in the southern Sindh province and Kehkashan, who lives in a village near the town of Dadu, says she is very worried. “She has a fever too and the midwife I took her to see is not certain what it is. We are now going to take her to the local clinic.” Midwives double as basic healthcare providers in many rural areas, where facilities are scarce.

Thomas Gurtner, the principal humanitarian adviser for the UN in Sindh province, told IRIN: “The death of 11 children due to measles has been confirmed by health officials here.”

In response, health officials in Dadu have ordered more vaccination centres to be opened in hospitals and for the vaccination drive at camps to be stepped up.
 
Eshtewi Abu Ziyad, World Health Organization (WHO) acting representative in Hyderabad, Sindh province, told IRIN: “We started a big campaign against measles, including a vaccination drive, that began before Eid-al-Adha [17 November]. This is continuing and we are discussing future plans and how to proceed with UNICEF [the UN Children’s Fund] and local health authorities.

“I am not sure yet if measles is totally under control. I think a few more cases have been reported. We are assessing the situation.”

About 4,000 children have been vaccinated against measles in the past two weeks. “We now have 95 percent coverage among IDPs [internally displaced people] and I can say things are improving,” Ziyad said.
 
Measles has been killing up to 58 children a day and outbreaks continue to be reported from various parts of the country.

The WHO estimates 2.1 million children are infected annually, resulting in approximately 21,000 deaths each year due to complications.

“The best means to prevent measles is immunization, immunization and immunization. Other important means are improved nutrition and doses of vitamin A, which improves immune response,” Gul Afridi, WHO media and advocacy officer, told IRIN from Islamabad.

“In situations such as that created by the floods, when many people are forced to live in close proximity to each other at camps, levels of hygiene are poor and nutrition not always adequate, there is a greater chance of all contagious illnesses spreading,” said Abdul Ahmed, a physician in Dadu.

Lack of awareness plays a role too. “I had no idea measles could be dangerous. My three children, all aged under 10, are not vaccinated but after hearing about the risks on TV I plan to take them to a clinic and get the shots,” Nizam Saeed, 35, said.

According to the WHO, other than the deaths in Dadu, there have been eight cases of measles in Ghotki district in Sindh, 20 in Dadu, 11 in Kashmore and three in Naushero Feroze district. Outside Sindh, one case has been reported from the northern Khyber-Pakhtoonkh’wa province.

Since the end of flooding the WHO has warned of a continued risk posed to victims by the spread of disease.

kh/mw

Theme (s): Children, Health & Nutrition, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Natural Disasters, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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