29 November 2000
LIFE SUPPORT FOR LESS THAN $2 PER PERSON
35 million people currently struggle to survive the consequences of natural and man-made disasters. The World Health Organization is appealing for $60 million to safeguard the health of these communities and save countless lives – as part of the UN’s humanitarian appeals for 2001.
In most humanitarian crises, more lives are lost to epidemics and other health problems as a result of the conflict or disaster to which people are exposed. WHO identifies, organizes and coordinates responses and maintains surveillance of disease outbreaks. In this way WHO plays a vital role in minimizing the human toll of natural and man-made disasters.
"We know what we need to do to save lives and prevent suffering in humanitarian crisis, even in the most complex conflict zones," says Ann Kern, Executive Director of WHO’s Emergency and Humanitarian Action work. "In most cases, what makes the difference are well-proven public health interventions like immunization, epidemic surveillance, infectious disease control, safe childbirth activities and supply of essential drugs. These need to be delivered despite the devastation of physical and human resources, breakdown in logistics and communication and sometimes even continuing violence. We need the funds to make this vital difference"
When funds are forthcoming, thousands of lives can be saved. There have, for example, been no epidemics of infectious disease in East Timor despite high risk circumstances, in large part due to the Australian, US, Spanish and Portuguese Government’s investment in WHO’s infectious disease surveillance which has allowed outbreaks to be detected and rapidly controlled.
In Somalia, Italian and Norwegian funding of WHO’s effort to identify and fight tuberculosis have helped raise cure rates to almost 90%, while further Italian funds allowed WHO to rapidly deliver urgently needed surgical and medical supplies and equipment to refugee camps in Eritrea even as the conflict raged. In Kosovo, a WHO Healthy Village project supported by the US Government, focused on improving water and sanitation services and behaviour at community level. Results show a significant reduction in cases of diarrhoea and hepatitis A after the interventions.
Sadly, the consequences of funding shortfalls in health have equally measurable negative effects.
In springtime an epidemic of measles in Afghanistan killed a thousand children who would have been protected had basic primary health care projects outlined in last year’s appeals gained more financial support. The low level of funds for safer childbirth also means the country’s tragic annual death toll of 15,000 women from pregnancy-related illness continues unabated, In Burundi, HIV infection has continued to spread inexorably, more than quadrupling since 1994 for many reasons, yet UN agencies received less than 50% of the funds requested for health-related projects in the 2000 appeals.
"Some people get the idea that we are powerless in these scenarios. But we are not," says Ms Kern. "There are strategies that, if well designed and co-ordinated, will reduce suffering, illness and death. But we and our implementing partners need the support of the international community to carry them out, and we need it now."
In this year’s appeal, WHO together with its sister UN agencies and implementing partners are asking for funds for proven life-savers: early warning systems, case management skills, emergency supplies, laboratory development that speeds diagnosis, training in obstetric emergencies, campaigns to roll back malaria and HIV, and support for basic primary health care.
The intentions remain the same. The Organization
hopes the international response will rise to the challenge.
For further information, journalists can contact
Office of the Spokesperson, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 25 99.
Fax (+41 22) 791 4858. Email :
For further information, journalists can contact Office of the Spokesperson, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 25 99. Fax (+41 22) 791 4858. Email :firstname.lastname@example.org All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int/