Building up health response in the Horn of Africa
20 July 2011 -- Drought and food insecurity in the Horn of Africa have exhausted the regular coping mechanisms of affected communities. The resulting crisis is taking a heavy toll on the health of populations in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti.
Over ten million people are at high risk, of which 2.85 million reside in Somalia, and another 3.2 million and 3.5 million in Ethiopia and Kenya respectively. These numbers are expected to increase in the second half of the year with no sign of relief until 2012.
In the worst-affected areas, child malnutrition rates are more than double the 15% emergency threshold and are expected to rise. Reduced food intake and lack of varied diet have led to malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies (iodine, vitamin A and iron), resulting in increased morbidity and mortality, particularly from communicable diseases. Disease, in turn, has aggravated nutritional losses.
Drought-related displacements are increasing. Since January 2011, on average 15 000 Somalis cross into Kenya and Ethiopia every month. There are approximately 710 000 refugees and 1.9 million internally displaced people in the region, adding considerable pressure on resources, particularly water. Lack of water, low immunization coverage and precarious sanitation resulting from displacements combine to increase the risk of communicable diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections and measles.
WHO key interventions
At country level, WHO is supporting health sector coordination using staff dedicated to emergency response as well as national polio surveillance staff. WHO is providing support to ministries of health and health partners in responding to diseases outbreaks and organizing cross-border emergency immunization campaigns with UNICEF and other health partners.
At regional and global levels, WHO’s inter-country teams are working closely together to support cross-country coordination, enhance information management and harmonize strategic planning with humanitarian partners.
WHO is drawing on its technical resources at headquarters to strengthen inter-country and inter-cluster cooperation and to ensure a comprehensive response. WHO is working closely with the Nutrition, Food Security, and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Clusters to coordinate efforts and pool resources.
WHO has identified three immediate priority areas for the organization's interventions:
- Identification of severely malnourished children needing specialized medical care for their referral to appropriate health facilities and enhancing the capacity to provide such specialized care.
- Establishment of emergency disease surveillance systems to monitor health status and detect/control disease outbreaks rapidly.
- Improvement of primary health care services, including a focus on nomadic populations through mobile clinics.
To complement the WHO humanitarian programme already in place in each of those countries, an enhanced joint plan of action is being finalized through an emergency consultation this week in Nairobi with the WHO Heads of Office from Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti, in consultation with partners.