MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – Health authorities today launched a two-week campaign to immunize 800,000 children in divided Kashmir following concerns that infectious disease could thrive in the crowded and sometimes squalid tent camps for earthquake survivors.
Plans to move survivors from one of the many camps that sprung up spontaneously and without proper sanitation since the Oct. 8 quake sparked a protest Friday by about 200 survivors in the capital of Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir.
Police dispersed the protesters with canes and rifle butts, injuring some of them. But the camp, at the Jalalabad Garden park in Muzaffarabad, was quiet today after Pakistani police said they had no immediate intention of moving its residents.
Pakistan and India, meanwhile, planned to open a third crossing today at their disputed Kashmir frontier as part of limited cooperation between the fierce rivals since the 7.6-magnitude quake. However, it was expected to involve only a ceremonial swap of quake aid as with the previous two openings – with no crossings by Kashmiri residents.
The immunization campaign by the U.N. children’s agency and Pakistan’s Health Ministry targets 800,000 children up to age 15 in Pakistani Kashmir with vaccines for diseases including measles, polio, diphtheria and tetanus, said Dr. Edward Hoekstra, a senior health adviser for UNICEF.
The shots also will include vitamin A, which can reduce the mortality rate of respiratory illnesses by up to 50 percent, Hoekstra said.
The senior superintendent of police in Muzaffarabad, Yasin Qureshi, said that public rallies in the city have been banned since Wednesday so that quake relief efforts are not hampered.
He said Friday’s violence broke out over a misunderstanding when police sought to meet with tent camp residents over plans to move them to facilities with better sanitation.