Humanitarian Health Action

WHO supports Uganda mudslide emergency health needs

10 March 2010 -- Health Action in Crises (HAC) has provided US$50,000 to WHO Uganda to help procure urgently needed medical supplies to respond to the health needs of several landslides caused by heavy rains that started 25 February. Additional support will be needed to treat the wounded, prevent disease and coordinate the health response.

As of 9 March, at least 92 people have been confirmed killed in a massive landslide that occurred 1 March in Bududa District in eastern Uganda on the slopes of Mt Elgon. Up to 350 people remain unaccounted for and are feared dead, while injured survivors are being admitted to local hospitals mainly with fractures and soft tissue injuries.

More than 300,000 people in the Mount Elgon region and the neighbouring lowlands of Butaleja, Budaka and Tororo districts have been displaced following the landslide, according to OCHA, while several water sources and most of the area's latrines have been destroyed, increasing the risk of diarrheal disease outbreaks. A total of 104 people, mostly children, have been reported as having diarrhoea at the Bukalasi health unit, but there has been no confirmation of cholera.

Flooding also occurred in nearby Butaleja district and there is the threat of further flooding in the area as well as mountain foothills in southwestern Uganda, including Manafwa district where there is already an ongoing cholera outbreak. In southwestern Uganda, smaller landslides occurred in Kabale district and there are fears of landslides in Kisoro District.

The mudslides and flooding caused a lack of shelter, food stocks, safe water and sanitation. Many people have suffered physical injuries. Continuing health risks include an increase of malaria, outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, including cholera, acute malnutrition and psychological disorders.

The Ugandan government is leading the emergency response, which WHO is supporting by coordinating the international health response through the Health Cluster. The Ministry of Health is conducting disease prevention outreach in communities in Mount Elgon by sending vans into areas to inform them on health issues related to diarrheal disease-related outbreaks.

The US$50,000 provided by HAC comes from the Rapid Response Account. WHO is also working to ensure effective treatment of survivors by helping relocate health workers or arrange the temporary recruitment of short-term consultants, assisting with psycho-social support and training of village health teams. A WHO team reached Bududa within 24 hours of the disaster being announced, delivering medicines and material to treat cholera, along with body bags.

There is a need to monitor water quality to prevent diarrheal disease outbreaks and to mobilize additional health workers to treat people in health facilities. Unicef is providing shelter and some other non-food items such as blankets and tents.

Village health teams need to be trained to detect and report diseases in the communities and treat some of the conditions. Members of affected communities also need to undergo health education. Additional medical supplies are needed for case management and surgery at Bududa Hospital and other facilities. Insecticide treated bed nets are needed for preventing malaria infection. Psychosocial support will also be required for some of the affected people.

WHO Uganda urgently needs emergency medical and surgical supplies, including medicines and surgical equipment, water quality surveillance kits and funds to support the relocation or recruitment of health workers, training, strengthening water and disease surveillance and early warning systems, providing psychosocial support, coordinating the health response and undertaking health and risk assessments.

Further information

Paul Garwood
Communications officer
WHO Health Action in Crises
Mob: +41794755546