More than half a million children are being targeted in an emergency vaccination drive in Nepal – as fears grow of measles outbreaks in the informal camps that have sprung up since the earthquake on 25 April.
The campaign was launched by the Nepalese Ministry of Health and Population, with support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to a press release issued by UNICEF, lack of shelter and sanitation are huge risk factors for disease - as the number of people who have fled their homes continues to grow, with many people now living next to their damaged houses.
According to figures available before the earthquake struck, around one in 10 children in Nepal is not vaccinated against measles.
“Measles is very contagious, and can potentially be deadly, and we fear it could spread very quickly in the often crowded conditions in the improvised camps where many children are living,” says UNICEF’s Representative in Nepal, Tomoo Hozumi.
“We have been working for decades to eliminate measles in Nepal. Unless we act now, there is a real risk of it re-emerging as a major threat for children – a setback for all of our collective efforts.”
In the first wave of the emergency response, teams are working to immunise children under the age of five in informal settlements in the three densely populated districts in Kathmandu Valley – Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Lalitpur. The drive will continue in the coming weeks in the 12 districts worst-hit by the earthquake.
“We are working with partners to take urgent practical steps to mobilise tens of thousands of vaccines, as well as the cold chain facilities needed to store them at the right temperature and keep them effective,” says Tomoo Hozumi.
“We are doing everything possible to minimize the danger for children who have
already been through so much.”
Around 1.7 million children remain in urgent need of humanitarian aid in the worst-hit areas of Nepal.
In addition to providing vaccinations to cut the risk of disease, UNICEF is prioritising access to clean water and sanitation for children across the worst-affected areas of the country.
UNICEF has reached almost 90,000 people in Kavrepalanchok, Lalitpur and Kathmandu with sufficient water to drink, cook and wash.
Almost 80,000 people in seven severely affected districts (Gorkha, Dhading, Dolakha, Sindhupalchok, Kavrepalanchok, Lalitpur and Kathmandu) have been reached with hygiene education and materials.
Supplies that arrived in Kathmandu by air, including health kits, blankets and tents, are on their way to children in more remote and hard-to-reach areas.
UNICEF has launched a US$50 million appeal to support its humanitarian response to the earthquake in Nepal over the next three months, as part of a wider inter-agency flash appeal.