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WHO calls for urgent injection of supplies and funds to combat mounting health crisis in Liberia

Cholera outbreak puts thousands at risk

In response to the health crisis in war-torn Liberia, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, is calling for supplies and funds to urgently provide crucial health care to Liberians. The delivery of extra resources into Liberia is critical to avert an even larger crisis.

“Although fighting in the Liberian capital has currently subsided, tens of thousands of men, women and children displaced by the recent fighting, are still living in desperate conditions in rudimentary shelters with minimal access to health care. Failure to address this situation is compounding Liberia’s humanitarian crisis and putting the lives of many thousands of people at risk,” says Dr Brundtland.

More than 97,000 internally displaced people live in temporary camps in and around the Liberian capital of Monrovia, where access to clean water, basic sanitary facilities, food and health care is rudimentary at best. Several camps have no health services whatsoever. Although some hospitals have agreed to treat those sheltering in the camps free of charge, they will soon run out of essential medicines and supplies.

Cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases, measles and malaria are on the increase. Since 17 June alone at least 455 people diagnosed with cholera have been admitted to the JFK medical centre in Monrovia. Contaminated water in and around the city is putting thousands more people at risk of the disease, which is often fatal if not treated.

WHO has provided 650 kilograms of chlorine to the Ministry of Health and to non-governmental organizations (Merlin, MSF Belgium, SOS) to launch a mass chlorination of the water supply around Monrovia. WHO has also provided enough basic health kits to support the health needs of 7,000 people for a period of three months, in addition to 4,000 sachets of re-hydration salts and 156 litres of ringer lactate to treat cholera.

However, the WHO Liberia office, which includes four physicians, notes that chlorine supplies are running low, and without new stocks, contaminated water will continue to cause disease. Malnutrition is also a major concern, with very little food available to people in the capital city. The combination of malnutrition, and other diseases such as measles are deadly, particularly to children.

The crisis is compounded by the lack of security, which makes movement around Monrovia dangerous, putting health staff at risk as they try to reach the people who need medical care.

“A bad situation is quickly becoming worse,” said Dr Brundtland. “I salute those health workers who are trying to work under these difficult and risky conditions. The international community must offer urgent assistance. During this cease-fire, every effort must be made to get medical supplies and food into the country.”


For further information please contact Rebecca Harding, Communications Officer, WHO, Tel: (+41) 22 791 3229, email: hardingr@who.int, Dr Luzitu Simão, Tel: (+41) 22 791 2720, email: simaol@who.int, or V. Pressley-Guillot, Tel: (+41) 22 791 2510, email: pressleyguillotv@who.int.

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