The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Philippine Department of Health have launched a vaccination campaign to prevent outbreaks of measles and polio among survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).
Large numbers of non- or under-vaccinated children are at risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases such as measles particularly in congested areas where the homeless are now living, says Dr. Julie Hall, WHO representative in the Philippines. Measles can be deadly, especially in young children.
The campaign targets children in areas hardest hit by the disaster starting with the evacuation centers in the city of Tacloban and at receiving centres in Cebu, where evacuated families are finding temporary shelter. Children under 5 years old are being vaccinated against polio and measles and given Vitamin A drops to boost their immune systems.
"Our system is shaken but not broken," says Philippine secretary of health, Enrique Ona. "With the support of partners, vaccinations have been re-launched at a vital time."
WHO worked with the Department of Health to finalize plans and procure all necessary vaccines and supplies to carry out the campaign and set up immunization stations. A team of 20 volunteer nurses is deploying to Tacloban this weekend to support local healthcare workers.
WHO is working with partners to arrange for the delivery of vaccines using gas-powered and generator-powered fridges, freezers, vaccine-cases, cold boxes and ice packs for affected areas that have lost power. This cold chain is necessary to keep the vaccines from being spoiled. USAID has sent six solar-powered refrigerators to Tacloban.
Mass immunization and vitamin A supplementation are immediate health priorities following natural disasters in areas with inadequate coverage levels. Contagious diseases like measles spread quickly when people are living in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.
As young children are most at risk, the initial phase of the campaign targets children 6 months to 5 years old in regions most severely affected by the disaster. The campaign will be extended to children up to 15 years old if resources allow.