Quake doctors warn of shortage of vaccine funding

DOCTORS fanned out yesterday to immunise children in Pakistan’s earthquake zone against measles and other diseases ahead of winter, but they warned they may not have enough money to finish the job.

The campaign, launched over the weekend, aims to immunise about 1.2 million children under age 15 in Kashmir and other parts of northern Pakistan over the next two to three weeks.

Project manager Edward Hoekstra said $4 million (about half the programme’s budget) was urgently needed to meet operating costs.

Without that, “we will not be able to complete the whole activity, which means large numbers of vulnerable children will remain unprotected,” said Mr Hoekstra, a senior UNICEF health adviser. Five-year-old Syed Junaid Shah was among those vaccinated against tetanus and measles.

The team of doctors from UNICEF and the Pakistani Health Ministry already had administered drops for polio that also contained vitamin A to guard against respiratory illnesses that are expected as winter descends on the Himalayan region.

“This is important to keep him safe from diseases,” said the boy’s father, Syed Hussein Shah, 55, seated beside his son on a green flowered mattress in the quake-shattered village of Sawan.

Moving on to the nearby town of Chinari, the vaccination team set to work on a line of children seated on plastic stools.

On a normal day, one team should be able to immunise about 200 children, said Mohammad Ashraf, a Pakistani member of the team. More than 86,000 people died in the 7.6-magnitude temblor that struck on October 8 and hundreds of thousands were living in tent camps where crowding and poor sanitation threaten to cause disease outbreaks.

The weather was clear and sunny yesterday in the regional capital of Muzaffarabad, near the quake’s epicentre.

Yet snow has already begun falling on mountain villages higher up, where NATO teams have begun working with the Pakistani army to build wood and metal shelters.

Relief officials are to gather in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on Friday to discuss long-term reconstruction expected to cost about $5.2 billion.

The United Nations says it needs $550 million in emergency aid, but donors have pledged only $131 million. “Assistance is not now at a level that we expect,” Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with CNN yesterday.

Musharraf later met with a delegation of US business leaders led by the top State Department official for public diplomacy, Karen Hughes, and thanked them for US assistance, particularly the dispatch of almost two dozen helicopters.

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