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World Health Organization appeals for US$ 1.3 million to help meet Niger's health needs

WHO/Marko Kokic
WHO Niger Head of Nutrition, Dr Herbert Degbey, visits a village as part of the WHO rapid assessment mission

A locust infestation in 2004 coupled with drought the same year and in 2005 has caused a severe food crisis in Niger. Based on a joint assessment conducted in March of this year, the Government, United Nations agencies and partner NGOs estimate that 3.6 million people have been affected. Approximately 2.5 million people are extremely vulnerable and require food assistance. An estimated 160 000 children in Niger are moderately malnourished and an additional 32 000 children are severely malnourished.

Malnutrition coupled with lack of safe water and poor sanitation (41% of the population does not have sustainable access to an improved water source) increases the risk of outbreaks of communicable diseases. It is estimated that more than 50% of the population does not have access to primary health care. If allowed to continue unchecked, this crisis could result in many deaths from associated illnesses such as cholera, respiratory diseases, diarrhoea, and malaria.

A cholera outbreak has already affected 61 people and killed ten in the district of Bouza in Tahoua region. As part of the health response, WHO will ship eight cholera kits to Niger this week in preparation to manage up to 800 severe cases of cholera.

Following a recent assessment mission in Niger between 27 July and 2 August, the initial World Health Organization (WHO) Flash Appeal has been revised from US$ 400 000 to US$ 1.3 million. This money is urgently needed for four projects to be implemented during the next six months: disease and nutrition surveillance and outbreak response, nutritional case management (building capacities to treat malnutrition at health centre level), supporting development of health policy to improve access to essential health care services by increasing reliability and affordability, and strengthening health sector coordination and information management.

Says mission leader, Emilienne Anikpo, "The assessment we conducted was crucial in allowing us to better understand the situation on the ground, to identify partners and to determine the most pressing health needs and how we should work to meet these needs. We now have a targeted approach to providing effective support to the Ministry of Health in addressing this health crisis."

Working in close conjunction with the Ministry of Health, WHO will increase health workers' capacity to conduct epidemiological surveillance will be reinforced through training with a particular focus on early warning and response and through integration into the system of active malnutrition surveillance.

Active surveillance of malnutrition will be reinforced. Health staff will be trained in detecting moderate and severe malnutrition according to international standards.

Increased access of malnourished children to health centres for treatment will be addressed. Currently, many clinics require patients to pay, which prevents impoverished children and their parents from seeking care.

WHO will also work closely together with the Ministry of Health to maximize coordination of health-related activities among UN agencies and other humanitarian actors.

A 12 member Emergency Task Force to include a nutritionist, epidemiologist, health systems financing specialist, logistician, project manager and information officer is being assembled for deployment soon.

The WHO component of the Revised Flash Appeal for Niger is part of a wider Revised UN Consolidated Flash Appeal launched on 4 August 2005, which seeks a total of US$ 81 million to assist Niger through the immediate lean agricultural season and to respond to medium term needs up until December 2005.

The Revised UN Consolidated Flash Appeal for Niger includes ACF, Helen Keller International, FAO, OCHA, UNDG, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP, WHO, VSF-B. Projects aim at providing the most affected populations with 73 metric tons of food aid, reinforcing basic primary health care to save lives of moderately and severely malnourished children, preserving livestock and improving food security conditions, strengthening current water sources and sanitations systems to improve hygiene and preventing waterborne diseases, and reinforcing coordination mechanisms as well as information management and advocacy efforts.

For more information contact:

Marko Kokic
Information Officer
Health Action in Crises
WHO Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 24 48
Mobile phone: +41 79 217 34 11